Friday, August 29, 2008

The Warm-Down

So, this was supposed to be a relaxing last week to your narrator's summer hiatus... but, as it tends to do, the news had other plans.

Then again, as warmups go, that's not the worst thing -- if you thought this week was charged, church, just wait.

To everyone hitting the road for Labor Day weekend, safe travels... and refill your tanks before Gustav sends the gas upwards of $5 a gallon.

Seriously, though, with the storm's path seeming to head straight for the heart of the Gulf (not to mention today's third anniversary of Katrina's landfall), let the words of one of the Crescent City's great souls remind us anew: "Pray for Mother New Orleans." Again.

Hope you're all hangin' in there and getting some rest, gang. More after the holiday; in the meantime, be well and safe, have fun... and whatever the field of our own labors, St Joseph the Worker, pray for us.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Let the Drop Kick Begin"

He might've been in Green Bay, but Bishop David Ricken's western cred was on full display this afternoon as the Kansas-bred, Wyoming-seasoned prelate took the reins of the northeast Wisconsin diocese:
As part of his sermon Thursday, at his installation ceremony, Ricken burst into a classic truck-driving song, followed by a verse of “Drop kick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life.”

The congregation roared with laughter and applause.

It was the one light moment in an otherwise solemn but glorious affair, attended by bishops from all over the country — and one from Italy — about 400 priests and at least 400 deacons, family members and other religious men and women from the Green Bay and Cheyenne dioceses....

Ricken’s brother, Mark, who came for the ceremony from Colorado, and sister, Carol, who came from Cheyenne, did two of the liturgical readings.

Bishop Ricken then gave his sermon. He opened with a litany of thanks given individually to bishops, priests and former and new staff. But after that, he launched into a talk that had little of the formality of the sermon he’d given the night before, at a vespers service in Howard.

Ricken recalled how, after his ordination as bishop, he was driving from Pueblo, Colo., to his new assignment in Cheyenne. He said he was listening, as he drove, to Andrea Bocelli singing Mozart’s “Ave Verum,” when he found himself wondering what kind of music people in Wyoming listened to.

“I switched on the radio, and this is what I heard,” Ricken said, then broke into song: “Pour me another cup of coffee/For it is the best in the land/And put a nickel in the jukebox/And play the truck driving man.”

After the laughter died, Ricken said he understood he was shifting cultures in his move to Wisconsin, where “I understand there’s a famous football team … It reminds me of another song.”

And Ricken sang: “Drop kick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life/End over end neither left nor to right/Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights/Drop kick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life.”

After the laughter, Ricken said Bobby Bare's 1967 country hit actually carried “a certain profundity,” and he used it as a springboard into a sermon focused on St. Augustine’s search for and discovery of meaning through Christ’s teachings.

He also referenced the earlier Gospel readings by his siblings by invoking the congregation to “stir into flame the gift of God” and to become “oaks of justice, planted by the Lord to show his glory.”

He ended the sermon with “God bless you and let the drop kick begin.”
From the local TV, video, and the hometown Press-Gazette offers photo galleries of last night's Vespers service and the installation liturgy itself...

...and lest anyone want to hear the song that stole the show, knock yourself out:

PHOTO: Evan Siegle/Green Bay Press-Gazette


"Under New Management": The Fall Cycle Begins

Labor Day Weekend might still be at hand, but the church circuit's fall roster begins this afternoon in Green Bay with David Ricken's installation as the Wisconsin diocese's 12th bishop.

Scheduled to begin at 2pm local time (3pm in the East, 1900GMT), the liturgy from Pack Country's St Francis Xavier Cathedral will be livestreamed by the local Fox affiliate. Ricken's siblings will serve as lectors while Cardinals Adam Maida of Detroit and Francis George of Chicago headline the visiting high-hat contingent looking on as Archbishops Tim Dolan of Milwaukee and the papal nuncio Pietro Sambi conduct the rites of possession.

Named to lead Green Bay's 350,000 Catholics in July, the 55 year-old prelate -- a former staffer at the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy -- led Wyoming's statewide diocese of Cheyenne since 2001. In his new charge, Ricken is expected to continue the diocese's reconfiguration of parishes and schools in light of the significant demographic shifts experienced by not a few US dioceses over recent decades.

With more Stateside appointments soon to come as Rome reawakens following its traditional summer hiatus, early September'll see three more installations on these shores: the 3 September ordination of Bishop-elect Herbert Bevard on St Thomas, then Bishop Fran Malooly's inaugural in Wilmington and the Newark ordination of Auxiliary-elect Manny Cruz, both on the 8th.

As of this writing, the American docket comprises 16 dioceses awaiting a change of command -- seven vacancies, nine with ordinaries serving past the canonical retirement age of 75.

Over the next week alone, the latter figure will rise by two, as Bishop William Higi of Lafayette in Indiana marks his 75th tomorrow, followed late next week by Bishop Bernard Harrington of Winona.

PHOTO: Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph


"A Long Road Ahead"

In a rare civil judgment against a US local church, an Illinois jury yesterday found the diocese of Belleville guilty of "fradulent concealment" of the records of an abusive priest, ordering the diocese to pay $5 million in damages to a survivor who claimed five years of abuse in the 1970s.

After a heated trial -- which included an appearance on the stand by the diocese's former ordinary, now Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta -- plaintiffs' attorneys said they expected the diocese to appeal the judgment.
James Wisniewski, 47, of Champaign, was awarded damages in a civil trial resulting from a lawsuit he brought in 2002. It alleged that when Wisniewski was a 13-year-old altar boy at St. Theresa's Parish in Salem in 1973, his pastor, Kownacki, began repeated sexual abuse that spanned five years.

The damages to Wisniewski include $2.4 million for compensatory losses including medical costs and emotional duress and $2.6 million for punitive damages.

Following the verdict, which came after nearly five hours of deliberations, an emotional Wisniewski, surrounded by family who supported him throughout the trial, said, "This is a great day for me and other victims of sexual abuse."

Wisniewski, who took the witness stand Tuesday, added, "There's a long road ahead," a reference to mental counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder that two psychiatrists testified he may be need for the rest of his life.

His father, Mel Wisniewski of Salem, said, "I feel that our family can begin to heal now, especially my son Jim, but I think most of all we feel that maybe a whole lot of people out there who were afraid to come out before might have the courage now to come out and look at the problems, and admit the problems and start their healing, too."

The jury found that the diocese had "fraudulently concealed" evidence that Kownacki, 73, of Dupo, was known by church leaders from reports as early as 1973 to be a violent rapist and child sex offender but kept reassigning him to parishes without warning the public. Kownacki has stated he will not comment. He did not attend the trial....

During closing arguments, Belleville attorney Mike Weilmuenster told jurors that Kownacki was a dangerous pedophile who instead of being sent to jail or confined to a treatment center was "held out by the diocese" as a person who could be trusted around children....

Former Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory testified Tuesday that reports were missing from a personnel file about Kownacki compiled in 1973 and 1982 that stated the priest raped a 16-year-old girl, aborted her fetus, molested twin boys he brought from Guatemala and abused Wisniewski and other unnamed boys at the parish in Salem. Gregory testified he was unaware of the reports when he turned Kownacki's personnel file over to the review board. The reports surfaced during the court-ordered legal discovery process.

Gregory testified that if the allegations that parish officials knew about Kownacki's violent past and still reassigned him, as the evidence showed, then the diocese was responsible for what happened to Wisniewski.

Wigginton repeatedly pointed to former vicar general James Margason, who testified earlier that he knew about a 1973 report concerning several detailed allegations of sex abuse of a minor by Kownacki, but failed to investigate or warn parishioners.

"Shame on you, shame on you," Wigginton shouted at Margason, who sat a few feet away at the defense attorney's table.
Elsewhere on the abuse docket, earlier this month the archdiocese of Chicago settled 16 cases for $12.7 million. As Cardinal Francis George -- the head of the nation's second-largest diocese and president of the US bishops -- said he "ha[d] to accept the blame," the archdiocese also released a 300-page January deposition given by the prelate extensively detailing the Chicago church's response to allegations received as late as 2006.

And just last week, the Missouri diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph paid a $10 million settlement to 47 plaintiffs who claimed abuse by 12 clerics, including Bishop-emeritus Joseph Hart of Cheyenne, a former KC priest.

In addition to the financial aspect, the deal included an unprecedented 19 non-monetary concessions, among them a formal diocesan apology to any survivor who seeks one (with the explicit acknowledgment that the victim was not at fault) and signs to be posted in each diocesan school reading "The abuse of the spiritual, emotional and moral development of young men and women shall not be tolerated."

Each placard will also carry phone numbers for local police and sex-abuse hotlines.

PHOTO: Derek Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pelosi on... Pelosi: The Speaker Responds

After an unprecedented tongue-lashing from the nation's senior church leadership -- including the archbishops of New York, Washington, Denver and representatives of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops -- a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued the following statement earlier today:

“The Speaker is the mother of five children and seven grandchildren and fully appreciates the sanctity of family. She was raised in a devout Catholic family who often disagreed with her pro-choice views.

“After she was elected to Congress, and the choice issue became more public as she would have to vote on it, she studied the matter more closely. Her views on when life begins were informed by the views of Saint Augustine, who said: ‘…the law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation…’ (Saint Augustine, On Exodus 21.22)

“While Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception, many Catholics do not ascribe to that view. The Speaker agrees with the Church that we should reduce the number of abortions. She believes that can be done by making family planning more available, as well as by increasing the number of comprehensive age-appropriate sex education and caring adoption programs.

“The Speaker has a long, proud record of working with the Catholic Church on many issues, including alleviating poverty and promoting social justice and peace.”

(Via Amy Welborn.)

As previously noted, the speaker's hometown shepherd, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, will respond to Pelosi's controversial Meet the Press comments in a column for the next edition of his archdiocesan weekly, slated to appear on 5 September -- a timetable that would ostensibly give Niederauer the opportunity to seek the input of his close confidant and "City" predecessor Cardinal William Levada, now the global church's top guardian of orthodoxy as prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Soon to come from Denver: tonight's speech from Bob Casey, Jr. -- the Pennsylvania senator and scion of the Democrats' most prominent pro-life Catholic dynasty.

SVILUPPO: Sixteen years after his venerated father -- arguably, the most popular governor in modern Pennsylvania history -- was deep-sixed from the DNC podium, Casey Jr.'s fulltext...

Key quote:
"Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him."
PHOTO: Getty Images


High Noon at the Al Smith. Again.

Correcting an earlier notice, this year's Al Smith Dinner in New York will feature both John McCain and Barack Obama as keynote speakers... at least, that's what the white-tie event's website says... not to mention the save-the-date cards that went out late last week.

Scheduled for 16 October, the 63rd edition of the vaunted Waldorf-Astoria funder for Gotham's Catholic Charities falls one night after the final debate between the presidential contenders, and -- barring the unexpected -- will be their last face-to-face before Election Day.

A resolutely apolitical gathering, the Smith is more akin to a Gridiron-style roast, as illustrated by 2000's Gore-Bush meeting there (above).

PHOTO: Reuters/Khue Bui


Conventional High-Hats

Over at his Deacon's Bench, Greg Kandra asks after the history of hierarchs who've appeared at the political conventions.

And, well, with the season upon us, there's really no better time to attempt a substantive answer.

As previously noted here, the tradition goes back a long ways. While prayers at the early conventions were dominated by Episcopal clerics, as early as 1900 Archbishop Patrick John Ryan of Philadelphia blessed the Republican National Convention there. But the custom of a host-city's chief Catholic ascending the podium really began taking flight in 1912, when Baltimore's Cardinal James Gibbons opened the Democratic convention which met in his see to nominate Woodrow Wilson for his first term.

Only the second Stateside cardinal, and the first US prelate since John Carroll to command universal respect at the highest levels of government, Gibbons (above right) transcended party lines; a year before his appearance with the Dems, the era's Republican titans, President William Howard Taft and his predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt, led the civil contingent that came to pay homage to the cardinal (whose archdiocese, at the time, still included the capital) on his golden jubilee as a priest.

(Now, for those who adhere to the "past as prologue" school, the "Maryland Tradition" of Carroll and Gibbons was reborn in the tenure of Cardinal William Keeler, who retired last year as the Premier See's 14th head. In 12 days' time, of course, Keeler's chief protege takes office as bishop of Wilmington, where his most prominent parishioner will be... Bide -- er, bingo.)

Appropriately enough, though (at least, for this cycle), the chief ecclesiastical Republican of the time was Archbishop John Ireland of St Paul and Minneapolis, where today's GOP will hold its gathering next week.

Known among his contemporaries as the "Consecrated Blizzard of the Northwest," the builder of the Twin Cities' twin cathedrals (left) -- who served in his post for 43 years -- is commemorated in the name of a main street running just alongside the convention site at St Paul's Xcel Energy Center. Yet even for all his "stalwart" support of the party of Lincoln, the Eire-born Ireland -- whose 1896 election-season pastoral on class warfare was reprinted and circulated nationwide by the GOP -- never seemed to find his way to a rostrum.

In the decades following, as the nation's Catholic population grew -- and, with its attendance numbers in the 90-percent range, provided their prelates with keen blocs of the electorate -- the leaders of both parties eagerly turned to the bishops; among others, LA's Cardinal James Francis McIntyre prayed at the 1960 DNC there (which nominated JFK), Philly's John Cardinal Krol did the honors for the GOP in 1968 in Miami and, in one instance, a single archbishop got to pray over both in the same year: as the parties met in Philadelphia in 1948, 83 year-old Cardinal Dennis Dougherty was offered, and eagerly took, equal time.

Since Roe v. Wade and the breakdown of the parties on opposite sides of the abortion issue, it should come as no surprise that the hierarchy has largely avoided Democratic National Conventions. In 1992 and 1996, the late Cardinals John O'Connor of New York and Joseph Bernardin of Chicago declined invites to pray as the Dems gathered in their respective backyards, while Krol traveled to Dallas to bless the 1984 RNC, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom offered a benediction at the 1996 GOP convention there, and O'Connor's successor in New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, did the same following President Bush's acceptance speech at the Republicans' 2004 meeting in Gotham. At the last DNC in Boston, then-Archbishop Sean O'Malley was passed over in favor of nominee John Kerry's pastor, Paulist Fr John Ardis, then the director of the city's Paulist Center.

The lone recent exception to the no-DNC protocol, however, came in 2000, when Cardinal Roger Mahony prayed at the Democratic convention as it returned to Los Angeles for the first time since his mentor appeared before it four decades prior.

Not since 1988, when the US' first African-American metropolitan -- Atlanta's newly-arrived Archbishop Eugene Marino -- closed the Dems' convention there had a host-city prelate blessed the Blue bloc, and Mahony's presence ensured that the church's points would get a hearing from the podium.

With thanks to Kandra for digging it up, here's the text of that prayer:
I welcome you to the "City of Angels" with all its vibrant religious, ethnic, and racial diversity. I come to this great convening out of respect for our nation's democratic traditions. I come as a pastor, not a politician; an advocate of values, not candidates.

Prayer must be about moral values, not partisan politics. It should express faith, not ideology. So as we begin our prayer this evening let us be mindful that we are always in the presence of God:


Let us Pray:

God of life and love,

God of compassion and mercy,

God of reconciliation and forgiveness,

God of justice and peace.

As you gathered your people into the land that was promised to them, you called them to heed your voice and follow your commandments. These commandments are at once simple and profound: To love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We have been called to "choose life" and to "serve the least of these."

Tonight we are gathered here profoundly aware of our need for God's wisdom and grace to embody these commandments in our laws and policies so that "justice will flow like a mighty river and uprightness like a never-failing stream" (Amos 5.24). Strengthen our will to build a nation that measures progress by how the weak and vulnerable are faring.

In the span of just three weeks, our nation's major political parties will have gathered at their conventions to select their candidates for the upcoming presidential campaign. We pray tonight that your Spirit will inspire all candidates, regardless of party, to embody in their words, actions, and policies values that protect all human life, establish peace, promote justice, and uphold the common good. For it is in you, O God, that we trust.

In You, O God, we trust…that you will keep us ever committed to protect the life and well-being of all people but especially unborn children, the sick and the elderly, those on skid row and those on death row.

In You, O God, we trust…that you will instill in us the resolve to not rest until every family has enough food to eat, the clothing to keep them warm, adequate shelter to protect them from the elements, and a decent education for their children.

In You, O God, we trust…that you will give us the resolve to create those conditions in society where working people earn wages that can sustain themselves and their family members in dignity, and that they have access to adequate healthcare, childcare, and education.

In You, O God, we trust…that you will plant deep in our hearts the truth that our neighbor is anyone near or far who needs our assistance and support regardless of whether they suffer from AIDS or debt in Africa, religious persecution in China or Sudan, or from hunger and poverty in developing countries.

In You, O God, we trust…that we will recognize that dignity and worth of each person comes from you and is not determined by race or ethnicity, by age or gender, by economic or immigration status, by faith or creed.

Tonight, O God, we pray for "a new kind of politics, focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls, more on the needs of the poor and vulnerable than the contributions of the rich and powerful, more on the pursuit of the common good than the demands of special interests."

We pray, O God,

That you will give us the courage, the wisdom, and the insight,

To build a nation founded on "life, liberty and the pursuit of justice" for all God's children.

We make our prayer in your name.

And now, with next week's RNC program fresh off the presses, it's now official that but one Catholic cleric will offer a prayer in St Paul: the president of Phoenix's Brophy Prep High School, Jesuit Fr Edward Reese.

The brother of Jesuit Fr Tom Reese (the editor-emeritus of America), Eddie Reese has long ties to the family of Sen. John McCain -- two of the GOP nominee's sons graduated from Brophy, where a colonnade bears the McCain name in testament to the clan's largesse.


Prelates v. Pelosi, v.2.0

After a drafting spat that stretched into the night, this morning the US Conference of Catholic Bishops released a second version of its statement in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Sunday comments on the church's teaching on abortion, with the newer copy including a passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Here, this morning's text:
In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." (No. 2271)

In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

Egan: Pelosi Positions "Utterly Incredible"

Earlier today, the pile of episcopal statements taking on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent comments on the "history and nature" of the church's teaching on abortion was added to with one from the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan:
Like many other citizens of this nation, I was shocked to learn that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America would make the kind of statements that were made to Mr. Tom Brokaw of NBC-TV on Sunday, August 24, 2008. What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age.

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.
For the record, the statement from 1011 is the fifth from a top US prelate within the last 24 hours. On a related note, ostensibly reflecting the delicacy of the church-state dance in a presidential campaign's home stretch, recent buzz has indicated that the 76 year-old cardinal's succession will most likely be delayed until after the November elections.

Of course, the Gotham archbishop hosts the annual Al Smith Dinner each mid-October to benefit New York's Catholic Charities. While no announcement has yet come on who's sitting atop the dais, both presidential candidates appeared and spoke at the Waldorf-Astoria soiree in 1960 and 2000, but not in 2004. (CORRECTED: Obama and McCain to headline Al Smith.)

And from the Democratic speaker's home diocese, Whispers has learned that Archbishop George Niederauer will publish a "lengthy commentary" on Pelosi's comments in a column for the next edition of the archdiocesan weekly, Catholic San Francisco. A bit of patience is advised, however: due to the paper's fortnightly summer schedule, it won't hit the streets 'til September 5th.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Prelates v. Pelosi: As DNC Opens, Speaker Taken to Task

Hours into a week the Democratic leadership's sought to script down to its most minute detail, the party's "Catholic problem" roared to the fore today as, in an unprecedented move, the opening of the Blue bloc's Denver convention saw four senior hierarchs publicly blast the event's chair -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- for "misrepresent[ing] the history and nature" of the church's teaching on abortion in the California congresswoman's latest defense of her pro-choice stance.

Barely a day after presidential nominee-in-waiting Barack Obama tapped another pro-choice Catholic, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, as his running mate, and as the party approved a platform declaring its "unequivocal" support of abortion rights "regardless of [a woman's] ability to pay," church pro-lifers launched into action following this exchange between Pelosi and Tom Brokaw on yesterday's Meet the Press:
MR. BROKAW: Senator Obama [said] the question of when life begins is above his pay grade, whether you're looking at it scientifically or theologically. If he were to come to you and say, "Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?" what would you tell him?

REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child--first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There's very clear distinctions. This isn't about abortion on demand, it's about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and--to--that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who've decided...

MR. BROKAW: The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it...

REP. PELOSI: I understand that.

MR. BROKAW: ...begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must--it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take--you know, we have to handle this as respectfully--this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been--and I'm not saying Rick Warren did, because I don't think he did, but others will try to.
In response, late today the following statement was released in the name of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops by the chairs of the body's Committees for Pro-Life Activities and Doctrine, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport:
In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

The Church has always taught that human life deserves respect from its very beginning and that procured abortion is a grave moral evil. In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church has long taught that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.
In addition to the conference's pamphlet on "a pro-life church," the USCCB release included as supplemental documents its prior statements on the responsibilities of Catholics in public life and, even more notably, the worthy reception of the Eucharist.

A further Washington response came from the capital's Archbishop Donald Wuerl:
On Meet the Press this past Sunday, August 23, 2008, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made statements regarding the teaching of the Catholic Church, human life and abortion that were incorrect.

Speaker Pelosi responded to a question on when life begins by mentioning she was Catholic. She went on to say, “And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition...” After Mr. Tom Brokaw, the interviewer, pointed out that the Catholic Church feels strongly that life begins at conception, she replied, “I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.”

We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops. Given this responsibility to teach, it is important to make this correction for the record.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: the current teaching of the Catholic Church on human life and abortion is the same teaching as it was 2,000 years ago. The Catechism reads:

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception…Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (Catechism, 2270-2271)

The Catechism goes on to quote the Didache, a treatise that dates to the first century: “’You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.’”

From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death.
And from Denver -- where the weekend interview took place -- a statement addressed to the Catholic commuity there was issued by the host-city's lead prelates, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. and Auxiliary Bishop James Conley (emphases original):
Catholic public leaders inconvenienced by the abortion debate tend to take a hard line in talking about the "separation of Church and state." But their idea of separation often seems to work one way. In fact, some officials also seem comfortable in the role of theologian. And that warrants some interest, not as a "political" issue, but as a matter of accuracy and justice.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them....

Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or "ensouled." But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.

Of course, we now know with biological certainty exactly when human life begins. Thus, today's religious alibis for abortion and a so-called "right to choose" are nothing more than that - alibis that break radically with historic Christian and Catholic belief.

Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life. It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions employed to justify it. Catholics who make excuses for it - whether they're famous or not - fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith.
As of press time, no public comment had been made by Pelosi's hometown ordinary, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, and the speaker's spokespeople declined several outlets' early requests for a statement.

A product of Catholic schools, the Baltimore-born speaker admitted in a C-SPAN interview earlier this month that, as a "regular communicant," denial of the Eucharist would be "a severe blow" to her were the boom ever to be lowered.

"It depends on the bishop in a certain region," she said of the possibility of ecclesial sanction, adding that "fortunately, for me," it hasn't been an issue.

Speaking at length during the hourlong sit-down on the role faith plays in her life, the first woman to head the House noted that "it’s easy for me to talk about being raised Roman Catholic."

While her "very devout" Italian parents "would be so proud" of her political accomplishments, "they really never raised me to [be] Speaker," she said.

"But they did raise me to be holy."

First elected to Congress in 1987, Pelosi's record on abortion votes has garnered a 100% rating from both the choice lobby's leading advocacy groups, Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

PHOTO: Getty Images


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hail, Columbia... Hello, Controversy

So, gang, it seems the "Wafer Watch" has begun in earnest. Again.

He once called it his "time alone," but now, fresh from his arrival on the ticket, the newly-tapped Democratic VP hopeful had no shortage of company -- or kudos -- on the customary Sunday journey to his parish church:
The Rev. [Msgr.] Joseph Rebman pointed out [Delaware Sen. Joe] Biden's family in the back of the congregation, congratulating him on his selection and asking the parish to pray for him.

Members of the church said they weren't surprised to see him at Mass since he’s a regular. But some said they were momentarily shocked by the row of cameras outside, and a few objected to the presence of the media.

Rebman said he doesn't know what impact Biden's religion will have on Catholic voters.

"There are Republican Catholics," Rebman joked.

He said one barrier between Biden and Catholic voters is the Senator's pro-choice stance.

"We're in dialogue about that," Rebman said....

When Biden was pointed out during Mass, he dropped his head and shook it at the attention.
On a context note, Rebman serves as one of two vicars-general of the diocese of Wilmington... well, to be canonically precise, he did before Bishop Michael Saltarelli's July retirement (at which point, goes the law, vicars cease in office); the prelate's successor, the former Baltimore auxiliary Fran Malooly, will be installed on September 8th.

While, under normal circumstances, a diocese's most-prominent public official within its fold would be more conspicuous by his absence on such an occasion, anything normal went out the window with Biden's rollout yesterday as Barack Obama's running mate -- a move which, from America to Fidelis and everywhere in between, has predictably garnered no shortage of reaction within ad intra circles, most of it focusing on the conflict between the six-term senator's faith (described in turns as "sincere" or, as Obama himself put it, "committed") with a reliably pro-choice voting record. Ergo, four days after the church's freshly-installed "chief justice" restated his controversial view on the question (albeit one with strong papal echoes) from his new perch in Rome, the specter of the Eucharist -- that is, the potential denial thereof -- has returned to overshadow a presidential campaign for the second time running.

In his home-church, which encompasses the entire First State, Rebman told MSNBC earlier today that Biden has "never" been denied Communion. But shortly after yesterday's announcement, one senior Wilmington cleric noted to Whispers that the senator always made a point to receive it from someone other than Saltarelli at liturgies where both were present.

"Joe never wanted to put the bishop in that position," the priest said.

Both privately and in the open, the two have long sparred on the abortion issue -- Biden's outgoing ordinary called out "personally opposed" pro-choice politicos for taking a "cop out" stance in a 2005 interview on Catholics in public life, while in a campaign autobiography, the candidate maintained his view that "I don't think I have the right to impose my view – on something I accept as a matter of faith – on the rest of society." Yet that didn't keep Msgr William Kerr -- the former director of Washington's John Paul II Cultural Center -- from telling the Christian Science Monitor last year that the Veepstakes winner "is one of the most sincere Catholics I've known in my 40 years as a priest," even as the lengthy profile noted Biden's mother's advice before her son met the Pope: "Don't you kiss his ring." (In defiance of another call that attracted strong, consistent Vatican opposition, Biden also voted to support the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.)

With the Democratic convention slated to begin tomorrow in Denver and the new release from the host city's top prelate racking up the high-watt airtime, Archbishop Charles Chaput said earlier today that given his "seriously wrong" abortion stance, Biden should refrain from the Communion line:
Biden "has admirable qualities to his public service," Chaput said in his statement. "But his record of support for so-called abortion 'rights,' while mixed at times, is seriously wrong. I certainly presume his good will and integrity — and I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion, if he supports a false 'right' to abortion."

Chaput added that he looks forward to speaking with Biden privately.
While the political parties have a long history of inviting a host city's ordinary to lead their convention floors in prayer, the Capuchin prelate was merely offered an observer's pass to this week's events. Instead, Sister of St Joseph Catherine Pinkerton -- an 86 year-old leader of the church social-justice lobby Network -- will give the benediction closing Wednesday's session.

Incidentally, as a result of yesterday's announcement, Pinkerton's prayer will immediately follow Biden's acceptance speech.


Friday, August 15, 2008

The King's Dormition

It might be Assumption Night the world over... but for the global gathering of the faithful at the Memphis parish nearest to the nation's most-visited house of worship -- Graceland -- today's 3pm liturgy was, yet again, the "Elvis Mass."

Of course, tomorrow marks the 31st anniversary of the King's death -- a holy day of obligation in pop culture, to be sure, and one observed by not a few among this readership (...let alone your narrator's Dad, who keeps a gyrating Presley phone (that sings "Hound Dog") by His Chair).

According to legend, Elvis -- a Southern Baptist who long maintained a keen interest in religion -- was reading a book about the Shroud of Turin at the time of his passing... so in that vein, without any further ado, one of the standards from today's Memphis Mass: the King's "Miracle of the Rosary":

...and, of course, John Krol's modern favorite:

Mike Brown/Getty


Assumpta Est

Back from hiatus? Not so fast... but soon enough.

Anyways, greetings from a couch at the Shore -- where, in the grand tradition of this Assumption Day, the annual Weddings of the Sea have yet again taken place. (First miracle: the forecast thunderstorms never materialized....)

As always, a world of thanks for the truckload of e.mails; getting back to 'em (or trying to) one at a time, so please be patient. In the meantime, though, as one writer noted that he'd yet to see "an actual copy" of the recent ruling on the Tetragrammatron, for anyone else in the same boat the CDW Letter to the Bishops' Conferences on the Name of God is posted below, with the cover letter from the USCCB's Committee for Divine Worship; the files are jpeg, clicking on the thumbnails should open each page as full size:

* * *
Looking back for a moment, this Assumption Day -- the 218th anniversary of the ordination of John Carroll of Baltimore as the first American bishop -- likewise marks a more recent milestone of Stateside church history: fifteen years exactly since the close of World Youth Day in Denver, whose five days marked the "second founding" of the church in the Rockies and transformed the triennial gathering from Karol Wojtyla's ambitious vision into the global church's enduring "Olympic event."

From the day's memorable homily at Cherry Creek State Park, a snip:
The Eighth "World Youth Day" is a celebration of Life. This gathering has been the occasion of a serious reflection on the words of Jesus Christ: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly". Young people from every corner of the world, in ardent prayer you have opened your hearts to the truth of Christ’s promise of new Life. Through the Sacraments, especially Penance and the Eucharist, and by means of the unity and friendship created among so many, you have had a real and transforming experience of the new Life which only Christ can give. You, young pilgrims, have also shown that you understand that Christ’s gift of Life is not for you alone. You have become more conscious of your vocation and mission in the Church and in the world. For me, our meeting has been a deep and moving experience of your faith in Christ, and I make my own the words of Saint Paul: "I have great confidence in you, I have great pride in you; I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy"

These are not words of empty praise. I am confident that you have grasped the scale of the challenge that lies before you, and that you will have the wisdom and courage to meet that challenge. So much depends on you.

This marvelous world – so loved by the Father that he sent his only Son for its salvation (Cfr. Io 3,17) – is the theater of a never-ending battle being waged for our dignity and identity as free, spiritual beings. This struggle parallels the apocalyptic combat described in the First Reading of this Mass. Death battles against Life: a "culture of death" seeks to impose itself on our desire to live, and live to the full. There are those who reject the light of life, preferring "the fruitless works of darkness" (Eph 5,11). Their harvest is injustice, discrimination, exploitation, deceit, violence. In every age, a measure of their apparent success is the death of the Innocents. In our own century, as at no other time in history, the "culture of death" has assumed a social and institutional form of legality to justify the most horrible crimes against humanity: genocide, "final solutions", "ethnic cleansings", and the massive "taking of lives of human beings even before they are born, or before they reach the natural point of death" (Dominum et vivificantem, 57).

Today’s Reading from the Book of Revelation presents the Woman surrounded by hostile forces. The absolute nature of their attack is symbolized in the object of their evil intention: the Child, the symbol of new life. The "dragon" (Apoc 12,3), the "ruler of this world" (Io 12,31) and the "father of lies" (Io 8,44), relentlessly tries to eradicate from human hearts the sense of gratitude and respect for the original, extraordinary and fundamental gift of God: human life itself. Today that struggle has become increasingly direct.

Dear Friends, this gathering in Denver on the theme of Life should lead us to a deeper awareness of the internal contradiction present in a part of the culture of the modern "metropolis".

When the Founding Fathers of this great nation enshrined certain inalienable rights in the Constitution – and something similar exists in many countries and in many International Declarations – they did so because they recognized the existence of a "law" – a series of rights and duties – engraved by the Creator on each person’s heart and conscience.

In much of contemporary thinking, any reference to a "law" guaranteed by the Creator is absent. There remains only each individual’s choice of this or that objective as convenient or useful in a given set of circumstances. No longer is anything considered intrinsically "good" and "universally binding". Rights are affirmed but, because they are without any reference to an objective truth, they are deprived of any solid basis. Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong, and are at the mercy of those with the power to "create" opinion and impose it on others.

The family especially is under attack. And the sacred character of human life denied. Naturally, the weakest members of society are the most at risk: the unborn, children, the sick, the handicapped, the old, the poor and unemployed, the immigrant and refugee, the South of the world!

Young pilgrims, Christ needs you to enlighten the world and to show it the "path to life" (Ps 16,11). The challenge is to make the Church’s "yes" to Life concrete and effective. The struggle will be long, and it needs each one of you. Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life!

Have no fear. The outcome of the battle for Life is already decided, even though the struggle goes on against great odds and with much suffering. This certainty is what the Second Reading declares: "Christ is now raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. in Christ all will come to life again" (1Cor 15,20-22). The paradox of the Christian message is this: Christ – the Head – has already conquered sin and death. Christ in his Body – the pilgrim People of God – continually suffers the onslaught of the Evil One and all the evil which sinful humanity is capable of.

At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: "Woe to me if I do not evangelize" (1Cor 9,16). Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life. The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love. Now more than ever, in a world that is often without light and without the courage of noble ideals, people need the fresh, vital spirituality of the Gospel.

Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (Cfr. Rom 1,16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (Cfr. Matth 10,27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern "metropolis". It is you who must "go out into the byroads" (Matth 22,9) and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father.

Jesus went in search of the men and women of his time. He engaged them in an open and truthful dialogue, whatever their condition. As the Good Samaritan of the human family, he came close to people to heal them of their sins and of the wounds which life inflicts, and to bring them back to the Father’s house. Young people of "World Youth Day", the Church asks you to go, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to those who are near and those who are far away. Share with them the freedom you have found in Christ. People thirst for genuine inner freedom. They yearn for the Life which Christ came to give in abundance. The world at the approach of a new millennium, for which the whole Church is preparing, is like a field ready for the harvest. Christ needs laborers ready to work in his vineyard. May you, the Catholic young people of the world, not fail him. In your hands, carry the Cross of Christ. On your lips, the words of Life. In your hearts, the saving grace of the Lord.

Buona festa and buon ferragosto to one and all, and hope everything's going great wherever you're at. Prayers, please, and know you've got mine, always. More soon.

PHOTO: William Thomas Cain/Getty


Naumann to Obama: Scrap Sebelius

The presidential hustings might be taking a breather in deference to the Olympics -- and the (presumptive) Democratic nominee's weeklong vacation in Hawaii -- but the ecclesiastical focus on the campaign and faithful citizenship hasn't stopped moving at a fever-pitch.

Earlier this week, Render Unto Caesar -- the long-awaited election-year tome of Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. -- hit the shelves, and was promptly green-lighted in the pages of the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano. Meanwhile, in recently-reported June comments echoing the point made by Michael Sean Winters -- whose Left at the Altar has gotten considerable play in church and media circles alike -- Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas warned Sen. Barack Obama to keep his distance from the state's Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a pro-choice Democrat whose April veto of a bill restricting access to abortion earned her the archbishop's public barring from the Eucharist.

Having recently gone on-record calling Sebelius "as talented a public official as there is right now," Obama's vice-presidential search team has reportedly targeted the second-term Kansas chief as a possible running mate.
“One of the things that I said when I met with the governor at one point,[" Naumann said, "]is that some day she’s going to have to stand before God and account for her public service. And I hope that she’s going to have something better to say than what she does to this point on the protection of the innocent unborn. But I said if you go to God and you say, ‘Well, I didn’t understand how important this was’ or ‘I didn’t understand that this was such a crucial issue’ then as your bishop I’m the one responsible because I didn’t do enough to try and make sure of that. I told her I wasn’t comfortable with that and so I wanted to make sure that she understood what a serious matter this was."...

“To my mind, you have to pursue it in that way; you have to attempt to meet with the individual, instruct the individual, make sure that you’ve given them every chance to consider their position before you take extreme action.”

When he was asked if Kathleen Sebelius has honored his request, the Catholic leader of Kansas City said that she has. “To my knowledge, she hasn’t gone to Communion since this second request to her so in that sense from an indirect way she’s honoring the request.”

However, the governor has not kept the lines of communication open with Archbishop Naumann since his request in May. According to Naumann, “she has not communicated with me at this point at all and she’s told other people in the media that she’s going to respond to me personally, but that hasn’t happened at this time.”

“What I found out after I took the pastoral action with Governor Sebelius is that Senator Obama had her on his advisory committee for Catholics,” recalled the archbishop.

“I wasn’t aware of that [beforehand],” he said, “but I hope that it alerted Senator Obama that this is not probably somebody that can really counsel you in terms of the mind and the heart of the Church on this very critical and important area.”

“So I think it would be a bad judgment on Senator Obama’s part to select someone who was in conflict with the Church.”
With the Democratic convention opening in Denver on 25 August, though, the lion's share of "Veepstakes" speculation on the Dem side has highlighted Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine -- a Catholic who, as a young lawyer, spent a mission year with the Jesuits in Honduras -- as the more likely ad intra choice.

A Virginian by marriage, Kaine was born in Kansas.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rome: Ixnay on the "Yahweh"

Last Friday, the US bishops received their second summer communique from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, this one dated 29 June.

Bottom line: the Tetragrammaton -- the Hebrew notation for the name of God -- is now forbidden to be "used or pronounced" in worship.

From CNS:
Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Divine Worship, announced the new Vatican "directives on the use of 'the name of God' in the sacred liturgy" in an Aug. 8 letter to his fellow bishops.

He said the directives would not "force any changes to official liturgical texts" or to the bishops' current missal translation project but would likely have "some impact on the use of particular pieces of liturgical music in our country as well as in the composition of variable texts such as the general intercessions for the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments."

John Limb, publisher of OCP in Portland, Ore., said the most popular hymn in the OCP repertoire that would be affected was Dan Schutte's "You Are Near," which begins, "Yahweh, I know you are near."

He estimated that only "a handful" of other OCP hymns use the word "Yahweh," although a search of the OCP Web site turned up about a dozen examples of songs that included the word.

OCP is a nonprofit publisher of liturgical music and worship resources.

Limb said the company would be contacting composers to "ask them to try to come up with alternate language" for their hymns. But he said hymnals for 2009 had already been printed, so the affected hymns would not include the new wording for at least another year.

Even when the new hymnals are out, "it may take time for people to get used to singing something different," he added in an Aug. 11 telephone interview with Catholic News Service.

At Chicago-based GIA Publications, another major Catholic publisher of hymnals, no major revisions will be necessary, because of the company's longtime editorial policy against use of the word "Yahweh."...

Bishop Serratelli said the Vatican decision also would provide "an opportunity to offer catechesis for the faithful as an encouragement to show reverence for the name of God in daily life, emphasizing the power of language as an act of devotion and worship."

His letter to bishops came with a two-page letter from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, dated June 29 and addressed to episcopal conferences around the world.

"By directive of the Holy Father, in accord with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this congregation ... deems it convenient to communicate to the bishops' conferences ... as regards the translation and the pronunciation, in a liturgical setting, of the divine name signified in the sacred Tetragrammaton," said the letter signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, congregation prefect and secretary, respectively.

The Tetragrammaton is YHWH, the four consonants of the ancient Hebrew name for God.

"As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: 'Adonai,' which means 'Lord,'" the Vatican letter said. Similarly, Greek translations of the Bible used the word "Kyrios" and Latin scholars translated it to "Dominus"; both also mean Lord.

"Avoiding pronouncing the Tetragrammaton of the name of God on the part of the church has therefore its own grounds," the letter said. "Apart from a motive of a purely philological order, there is also that of remaining faithful to the church's tradition, from the beginning, that the sacred Tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context nor translated into any of the languages into which the Bible was translated."

The two Vatican officials noted that "Liturgiam Authenticam," the congregation's 2001 document on liturgical translations, stated that "the name of almighty God expressed by the Hebrew Tetragrammaton and rendered in Latin by the word 'Dominus,' is to be rendered into any given vernacular by a word equivalent in meaning.
...but, thanks be to G-d, at least we still got this:


"Shadow" Over the Days

American Catholicism's second-largest annual gathering took place again over the weekend... and, as ever, the traditional barely-batted ad intra eyelid remained mostly intact.

Yet while a crowd of close to 70,000 returned to a rainy downstate Missouri field for the 31st Marian Days -- and the cardinal-archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City presided at the five-day, 30-acre campout -- this year's edition of the Vietnamese-Catholic jamboree took place under a pall as attendees mourned the death of 17 pilgrims en route from the Houston area, whose bus overturned and burst into flames in a crash north of Dallas.

At least 40 others were injured in the Friday morning wreck, likely caused by a blown tire. Chartered by members of two Vietnamese parishes in the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, the bus company at fault was operating illegally and without insurance, according to federal investigators.

While the Days -- started in 1975 by a small band of postwar refugees who settled in the Show Me State -- enjoyed several years as the Stateside church's largest "family reunion," that honor now belongs to the 130,000 or so who converge each 12 December on the Guadalupe Chapel at Maryville, outside Chicago.

Both testimony to the continuing ascendancy of the US fold's "new immigration," the rising festivals stand in distinct contrast to the marquee meet-ups of bygone years, instead emphasizing the bedrock traditions of faith and culture as attendees gather simply to eat, pray, celebrate and give thanks together for graces received.

Given that, no wonder they just keep on growing... and, even amid great tragedy, get nowhere near the attention they deserve.


"Panzer" No More

Last night, the Pope departed his two-week retreat in Bressanone, the Austrian border-town that's long been a triennial getaway spot for the brothers Ratzinger, before heading back to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, where he'll largely remain 'til the end of September.

Midway through his stay at the Alto Adige seminary, however, the pontiff journeyed to the local cathedral, where he held the latest of his signature Q&A sessions with the clergy of his vacation diocese. The meet-ups invariably include at least one notable quote, and -- with the encounter now translated in full -- this time around the buzz has honed in on B16's response to a priest who, "thinking that in any case it’s better not to snuff out the wick of a weak flame," sought pastoral insight on accepting the less-than-fully-committed for the sacraments:

The Pope's response:
Well, I can’t give an infallible answer right now, I can only try to respond based on what I see. I have to say that I’ve followed a path similar to yours. When I was young I was rather more severe. I said: the sacraments are the sacraments of the faith, and when the faith isn’t there, where there’s not practice of the faith, the sacraments can’t be conferred. When I was Archbishop of Munich I always discussed this with my pastors, and there too there were too factions, one severe and one more generous. I too in the course of time have realized that we have to follow instead the example of the Lord, who was very open also with the people who were at the margins of Israel at that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open – according to many of the official authorities – with sinners, welcoming them or allowing himself to be welcomed by them at their dinners, drawing them to himself in his communion.

Thus I would say in essence that the sacraments are naturally sacraments of the faith. Where there is no element of faith, where First Communion would just be a party with a big lunch, nice clothes and nice gifts, then it can’t be a sacrament of the faith. But, on the other hand, if we can see even a tiny flame of desire for communion in the church, a desire also from these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, it seems right to me to be rather generous. Naturally, for sure, it must be part of our catechesis to make clear that Communion, First Communion, is not automatic, but it demands a continuity of friendship with Jesus, a path with Jesus. I know that children often have the intention and desire to go to Sunday Mass, but their parents don’t make it possible. If we see that the children want it, that they have the desire to go, it seems to me almost a sacrament of desire, the ‘vow’ of participation at Sunday Mass. In this sense we naturally should do everything possible in the context of sacramental preparation to also reach the parents and – let’s say – also awaken in them a sensibility for the path that their children are taking. They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus, which is the form of life, of the future. If the parents have the desire that their children should make the First Communion, this somewhat social desire should be expanded into a religious desire to make possible a journey with Jesus.

I would say, therefore, that in the context of catechism with children, the work with parents is always very important. It’s an occasion for meeting the parents, making the life of faith present also to the adults, so that they themselves can learn anew from the children – it seems to me – and to understand that this great solemnity makes sense only, and it’s true and authentic only if, it’s realized in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith. The challenge is to convince the parents a bit, through the children, of the necessity of a preparatory path, which reveals itself in participation in the mysteries and begins to foster love for those mysteries.

This is a fairly insufficient response, I would say, but the pedagogy of the faith is always a journey, and we have to accept today’s situation, but we also have to open it up little by little, so that it’s not directed at the sole aim of some exterior memory of things, but so that the heart is truly touched. In the moment in which we become convinced, the heart is touched, it’s felt a bit of the love of Jesus, and it’s experienced a bit of desire to move in this direction. In that moment, it seems to me, we can say that we’ve accomplished a real catechesis. The true sense of catechesis, in fact, should be this: to carry the flame of the love of Jesus, even if it’s small, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thereby opening anew the places of the faith in our time.
As always, the fulltext is worth a fullread.



Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Checking In

Greetings from hiatus, gang -- a ton of thanks for the notes; everything's fine... really. (For once in my life it's nice to look (and feel) like something other than an electrocuted albino, so the breather's paying its dividends.)

More on the notes later. But in the meantime (and of much greater import), the recently-recognitioed texts of the revised Order of Mass have been revealed by the USCCB -- the complete "White Book" is available in PDF.

(Yes, "consubstantial" is there. As is "dewfall." "Pro multis" is, indeed, rendered as "for many"... but, alas, "deign" didn't make the cut.)

As previously noted, the Rome-approved OM will be the "binding" liturgical text for the entire English-speaking world; an evolving conference site has more on the changes, anticipated for rollout in late 2011 at the earliest.

Happy Reading and all the blessings of August -- hope everything's goin' great.