Friday, October 31, 2008

High Phidelity

It couldn't be more appropriate -- of all days, a city's long-hungered for exorcism of a quarter-century of futility takes place on Halloween.

Closing out the most magic month this town's seen in a long time, the latest high-ball estimates say 2 million will pack the length of South Broad for The Parade, which begins at noon local time. It's going to be a beautiful day for one -- temps in the 60s, and not a cloud in the sky. And for those who've written in to say they've been "converted" these last few weeks or anyone else who wants a look in, the livestreams will abound.

The feeling, the reality of it all, is simply incredible -- family and friends have poured in from all over, the usually-gruff natives are dancing in the streets and something quite close to "happy chaos" dominates the scene. All my life, I've never seen the place like this and, well, this is gonna be an experience. As if it wasn't already.

On a page-keeping note, just a quick word of apology for everything that's fallen through the cracks these last few weeks. The election alone has been more than enough to keep overoccupied with, so the Series run -- however grateful I am for it -- couldn't have come at a worse possible time. But if you've been around long enough, you know that when it rains, it pours.

Along those lines, a bigger-than-usual flood of e.mail's piled up, and I could spend the next two months doing nothing else but plowing through it... and, even then, still wouldn't be done. So from the kind words to the helping hands to the diatribes and questions to... everything else, please just know how grateful I am for each bit of it, how I wish I had more hands to express appreciation for each as it deserves... and guilt-trip myself that I can't.

With that, off to the madness...

Harry the K, sing us out:

PHOTO: AP/Joseph Kaczmarek


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Into the Home Stretch

The Faithful Citizenship Fire Sale continues -- 96 hours and all statements must go... and, boy, are they dropping at a quick clip.

First, from the Kentucky heartland, Bishop Ron Gainer of Lexington asked that "in view of the distortions of Catholic teaching on the national and local levels," his pastors read a letter on formation of conscience -- with an exposition of "THE paramount issue of our time" -- at all Masses this weekend and "mail" it in the parish bulletins....

As it's in .pdf, here's the original text as transmitted to the diocese earlier today:

...and from KCMO, the third strong intervention of recent weeks from Bishop Robert Finn, titled "Warriors with Our Eyes Fixed on Heaven":
I am sometimes amazed at the casual manner with which Christians, Catholics included, take up our life within what Pope John Paul II rightly called the "culture of death." The Church, by comparison, reminds us that we are engaged - by reason of our Baptism and Confirmation - in a battle, "not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities and powers, with the rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in heaven." (Eph 6:12) Jesus Christ has won the ultimate battle, but we, in the course of our human life must make our choice, determining on whose side we will live and die. Whose side will you choose?!

What is at stake in this battle is our immortal soul, our salvation. My responsibility as bishop is with the eternal destiny of those entrusted to my care. My total energies must be directed to the well being of those who otherwise may come under the spell of a radically flawed and fundamentally distorted moral sense, at odds with what our Mother the Church teaches. There are objective and transcendent truths. There is such a thing as right and wrong. There is a legitimate hierarchy of moral evils, and the direct willful destruction of human life can never be justified; it can never be supported. Do you believe this firm teaching of the Church?

Did you know that in Canada priests and Christian ministers have already been brought before tribunals for preaching and teaching in support of marriage? They are charged with "hate speech" against homosexuality. In light of the tyranny of choice growing each day in our own beloved country, we ought to be ready for similar attacks on religious freedom. We must not fail to preach the Gospel. We can not withhold the truth of our faith. That is why I will never be silent about human life. It is why I am proud of so many others - bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity - who are not afraid to speak out about the values that matter most. What about you?!

Our Lord told His apostles that they would be hated by the world, just as He was. Nearly all of them died a martyr's death. As warriors in the Church militant, we must never resort to violence. But we must stand up fearlessly against the agents of death, the enemies of human life. Human beings are not Satan, but we know too well that they can come under his spell. They can become willing agents of death, numbed and poisoned in this culture of death. What about you?!
A former editor of his hometown St Louis Review before being sent to NCR's home-base in 2004, Finn's made the shortlist for the chairmanship of the US bishops' Committee for Communications, whose next holder will be decided at the coming November Meeting.

The Missouri prelate's competition: Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles.

Suffice it to say, it'd be a little difficult to mistake one for the other.

SVILUPPO: ...and another -- from Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice in Florida, "mailed" in all bulletins over last weekend.

Fulltext; emphases original:
October 25, 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As you are all aware, next week our country will conduct its political elections and in so doing, choose its public officials. Many of you have spoken and written to me on this matter, sometimes requesting that I endorse a political party or candidate: that is something I cannot do.

However, as Bishop, it is my responsibility to instruct the faithful regarding the Church’s teaching on moral issues, the most important being the right to life and dignity of every person, from conception till natural death. These issues are fundamental to the health of any society and should therefore, be carefully considered when voting for a particular candidate. After all, in voting we are making moral choices.

The Second Vatican Council has taught that the laity are not to relinquish their participation in ‘public life’, but instead fulfill their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values. This teaching would apply for instance, to the act of voting for a political candidate or public official, which I encourage you to do.

In assisting you in properly forming your conscience before voting, I would recommend that you consult with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. These two works highlight the Church’s teaching on our moral responsibility to promote the common good.

As Catholics, we are called upon to respect and protect the rights of all, especially, the unborn child, the weakest and most vulnerable among us. At the same time, the family, the basic unit of society, must be safeguarded, promoted, and protected based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.

In affirming these rights of natural law, it is often argued that Catholics are promoting their own “personal values” which do not apply to other citizens. This accusation is false inasmuch as rights, such as the right to life and dignity of ever person are common to all people, regardless of their personal belief. These fundamental rights cannot be denied by any individual or group as they are intrinsic God-given rights which we must affirm, and above all, protect.

As you discern your choices of public officials, be assured of my prayers for you and your families.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Frank J. Dewane
Bishop of Venice in Florida

Wilt On the Vote

Now batting for the bishops... the former conference president -- and a reported top prospect for the coming Gran Manzana change-up -- Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta:
I have been asked by a number of people to comment upon the issues that we now face as a nation during this particular general election, and a few people (representing both sides of the political aisle) have even clamored for me to propose a candidate for whom all Catholics ought to vote—or to designate one they certainly must not elect. The Church wisely offers only ethical principles and a moral framework for people to consider and to evaluate when you are about to make your crucially important decisions regarding whom to vote for in this election.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has discovered that it is often perilous to align herself to a particular political party or individual leader. Rather we choose to recommend Gospel-based principles and social teachings to our people and to allow you to make appropriately informed decisions. These principles were carefully and adequately detailed in the most recent edition of the Bishops’ quadrennial statement: Faithful Citizenship. For some people these values were too complex, too nuanced and too oblique. They would much have desired a simple option.

According to the principles of Faithful Citizenship, Catholics must support the just care of the poor, the rights of workers, the dignity of people who immigrate to a new nation, the conservation of the environment; we must assess the very complex economic issues, seek to provide affordable health care for people who do not enjoy that security, and foster the more humane treatment of those who are imprisoned, to list only some of the issues that we now face. However, before and prior to all of those vitally important concerns, Faithful Citizenship places the issue of Life itself. All of those other matters are of immense and lasting significance, yet they remain of no consequence for those who are not granted the first right—the right to be born. For this reason, I want to remind all of you, my brothers and sisters, to remember those famous Jeffersonian words borrowed from Locke—and especially remember the order that he gave them.

On November 5, the social and ethical doctrines of the Catholic Church will be the same as they were on November 3. The dignity of human life will still be the foundational issue that we face in our society and in our world. Whoever is elected will hear the same policies from the Catholic Church that we have promoted not only during this election year but consistently about the sacredness of human life and the issues of social justice that necessarily flow from that leading concern. We will continue to challenge and urge all of our elected officials to enact laws that respect human life at each stage of its existence. These are not principles that we promote only during the election season but every day in season and out of season. Our social teaching is not a platform that can be adjusted to fit the mood of the moment or the sentiments of the day. Far longer than the Declaration of Independence, the Catholic Church has placed life first among those rights that are therein described as inalienable—no matter what some people may have recently suggested regarding the Church’s teaching on human life. We will also speak up for the other concerns that cannot be ignored or dismissed because they flow from the very human dignity that we all enjoy as God’s children.

Like most of you, I have sometimes felt oppressed by much of the election rhetoric and I am glad that the end is near. This has been a long political season. I deliberately chose to save this column until the final weekend before our election so that I could speak with you about these issues in those closing moments before you cast your ballots. Quite often the last words that we might hear are those that we tend to remember. I am utterly convinced that our people are well prepared to make informed decisions based upon our Catholic faith and its moral framework and the wisdom that you have gained in living our faith each day.

"How Would Jesus Vote?"

That's the question posed by the freshly-ordained Bishop Tony Taylor of Little Rock:
In last Sunday's Gospel Jesus addressed this issue of the relationship between Church and state just in time for our national elections. When Jesus says, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God," he's saying two things: (1) Caesar and God each have a legitimate claim on us, and (2) God's claim on us is greater. That's why we say we are "One nation UNDER God" even though we seldom act that way. Like the kings of old, what we really want is for God to legitimize whatever we think best serves our -- often selfish -- interests be it our military objectives even though they fail to meet the criteria for a just war, our economic policies, our tolerance of those who seek to redefine marriage as something other than the permanent union of one man and one woman, and above all our failure to protect human life and human rights from the first moment of conception to natural death.

In preparation for our upcoming elections, the USCCB has once again published a document titled "Faithful Citizenship," which is a brief summary of Catholic teaching to help us use the teaching of Jesus to form our consciences so that we can make sound moral judgments regarding the political issues of our day -- the claims of Caesar -- and thereby "Give to God what belongs to God" through our participation in the political life of our country. This document highlights four areas of special concern: (1) defending human life against the threat of abortion, (2) promoting family life, especially the sanctity of marriage, (3) pursuing social justice, especially the human rights of immigrants, and (4) practicing global solidarity, especially the obligation to avoid war and promote peace, to help alleviate global poverty and promote human rights.

Last Sunday's Gospel reminded us that Caesar and God do not have an equal claim on us; God's claim on us is greater, which we must mind as we decide how to vote. Today's First Reading applies this principle the issue of immigration: "You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt ..." to which we can add "for you yourselves descend from immigrants."

And this and all the other issues before us should be examined in the light of the twofold Great Commandment in today's Gospel: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind ... and your neighbor as yourself."

Another way of saying this is simply to ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" Given his Gospel of Life and his preferential love for the poor and oppressed because their needs are greater, "How would Jesus vote?" And also, considering his dealing with the political leaders of his day, "How would Jesus have us hold our leaders to account once the election is over?"

The "Issue of Issues"

In the campaign's home stretch, the nation's ranking Hispanic prelate -- Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio -- yesterday panned his hometown paper's exclusion of "the fundamental life issues" from its voters guide... in the paper's own pages:
With the economic crisis darkening the political horizon, the past month has left little room for other issues to penetrate the minds of Americans as we prepare to vote in the upcoming election. Certainly the economy deserves our serious consideration, along with such important issues as war, healthcare and immigration.

It is troubling, though, that there has also been a critical absence of issues central to the preservation of life and the family from the public arena. It would seem to imply that these issues have no impact on voter's selection process or that they are simply not important. Regardless which side of these issues a person falls, these are defining principles for any society.

Recently, the Express-News published its voter's guide. It was a comprehensive listing of races and candidates running for office in November. I'm sure it was a helpful tool for many. I recognize it is challenging to make any voter's guide comprehensive. However, the inclusion of the fundamental life issues for pursuit of the common good would have made the publication a more complete, accurate and useful tool at this critical time.

People need to know the positions of the candidates on the key issues that protect the right to life such as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and capital punishment. Voters also would have been better served if they had been provided information about the candidates' positions on the definition of marriage, the basic cell of society as a union between a man and a woman.

The “culture of life” issues, and I include in that the preservation of the very foundational definition of the human family, often are dismissed as purely religious issues. This characterization is inaccurate. These issues deal with the most fundamental concerns of human civilization. The strong moral teaching at the foundation of these issues does not disqualify them from deserving serious public discussion, nor deny the impact they have on the common good.

I find it unfortunate that often, when an individual raises abortion as a critical issue, there is a fear that they will be quickly labeled a “one-issue” voter. While this characterization might protect one from confronting the moral gravity of taking an innocent, defenseless, human life, it also avoids the reality that abortion is an issue that affects all segments of our society. It represents the primary right guaranteed in our Declaration of Independence — the right to life. Unless we protect this fundamental right of each human person, at all stages of life, no other issue or right matters.

Surely, many form their conclusions on these and other issues through a process guided by faith. However, society should not insist that people of faith be silent in the face of grave evil. We live in a society that would like to privatize religion, to take it out of the public square. Privatizing religion would be, for all people of faith, an unholy compromise. We who profess to believe in God cannot allow him to be banished from the public square.

It is never my purpose, nor the proper role of the church, to tell people how or for whom to vote. However, we have a responsibility to be a voice for the innocent, the helpless, for life itself at this time of political clutter. We cannot ignore these issues, many of which we believe are “non-negotiable.” If our nation loses respect for life and true “family values,” it will have lost its moral authority to lead the world.
In a last-minute add-on to its electoral engagement, Gomez has taped a Spanish-language viral video for the USCCB on same-sex marriage. Referenda banning the unions are on several state ballots this year, most notably California, where the national hierarchy recently contributed $200,000 toward the campaign to pass Proposition 8.

An English-language vid has likewise been rolled out featuring the conference's lead hand on family life, Archbishop Joe Kurtz of Louisville.


Deja Vu in Munich: Marx Releases "Das Kapital"

A conspicuous namesake of the Father of Communism, B16's recently-named successor as archbishop of Munich and Freising -- a sociologist who's serving on the drafting team for the (delayed) social encyclical -- is set to publish a manifesto of his own.

Reinhard Marx's Das Kapital: A Plea for Man rolls out next month:
[T]he Roman Catholic archbishop who is the most outspoken of Germany's 27 diocesan leaders in his criticism of big business, says that his work is to some extent "an argument with Marxism."

The book begins as a letter addressed to his "dear namesake."

"The consequences," he tells the 19th-century ideologist, "of your thinking were disastrous."

The modern-day Marx demands that the whole world adopt a market economy that is kinder to the weak and downtrodden instead of "heaping even more rewards on those who behave immorally."

"That's not utopia. It's a necessity for the sake of humans," said Marx in Munich.

The 300-page book, "Das Kapital: A Plea for Man", deliberately borrows its title from the "bible" of communism in which Karl Marx claimed 140 years ago that capitalism would automatically collapse.

With this new book, however, Marx intends to highlight the value of Catholic social teaching in a globalized world.

"Capitalism without humanity, solidarity and justice has no morals and no future," Marx writes.

He said we need to take a fresh look at social justice, or the world might veer back to dangerous ideologies such as Marxism.
As head of Bavaria's mother-church, Marx is a lock for the cardinal's cap at the next consistory.

Let the "red" jokes commence.


Quote of the Day

"...If we win tonight, we walk together forever."
--Fred Shero
Manager, Philadelphia Flyers (1971-78)
Pre-Game 6, 1974 Stanley Cup

* * *
...and now, at long last, we can.

After twenty-five years, four months, twenty-nine days... this is what it feels like.

All those Sunday afternoons, Friday nights, Opening Days and Fireworks Games at the Vet...

...the many whenever-possibles at the Bank and McFadden's...

...and, now -- Phinally -- How. Sweet. It. Is.

It's good to be alive... and awake. And in one piece, to boot.

A ton of thanks to everyone who took the time to send a note -- suffice it to say, this is gonna take some getting used to.

Parade tomorrow; in the meantime, back to work.

PHOTO: Elizabeth Robertson/Philadelphia Inquirer(1); Getty Images(2,3)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Twenty-eight years and five days since that iconic shot...

Twenty-five years, four months, twenty-eight days since any title...

And now...



For the second time in their 125-year history, our Phightins have won the World Series.

As they say in the mother-tongue, "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum"...

...and I was there.

(...and -- before anyone starts making noises -- the tickets were a gift.)

...perk of the job.

...suffice it to say, "YA GOTTA BELIEVE!"


Pray for the Vote

From Capitol Hill, the following Election Prayer's been composed by the Chaplain of the House of Representatives, Fr Daniel Coughlin of the archdiocese of Chicago.
Almighty and ever–living God, bound in faithful love to Your people, be attentive to our deepest needs; for as a nation we place all our trust in You.

Since election day approaches, we pray for all those who have placed their name before the people; to seal their commitment of public service for the common good. Purify the intentions of those who deserve the public trust. Transform self interest into compassion for Your people, as You make them harbingers of our future.

Empower each voter with Your Spirit; so that as the free people of Your creation they may recognize truth and personal integrity in those they choose. May the representative government they place in service mirror their own commitment to search out the ways of peace with others and establish an economic stability where justice will flourish for all.

May a new era of patriotism dawn upon the United States; a patriotism strong enough to carry us through difficult times and flexible enough to embrace authentic creativity. Drawing upon the resources of university and business, may the legal and social development of Your people help all citizens realize their full potential in Your sight. For Your wisdom is revealed to us and in us both now and forever. Amen.
PHOTO: AP/Reed Saxon


"Threshold" Approaching? Not So Fast.

Lest anyone on these shores has been planning ahead and getting a start on those Quinquennial Reports... be advised that they can be put on ice.

For a good while.

Given the usual rhythm of the calendar, recent weeks have seen an uptick of buzz anticipating an ad limina visit by the US bishops to the Holy See sometime next year. And not without reason -- required of every diocesan bishop, the five-yearly Roman pilgrimage both to the tombs of Peter and Paul and "to present himself to the Roman pontiff" was last undertaken by the Stateside bench in 2004.

Still to get its turn since Pope Benedict's election as a result, the months-long series of drop-ins by the USCCB's 15 conference regions has garnered heightened interest, both on how the current pontiff conducts his part of the meetings, not to mention the content of the public speeches he gives to each visiting group at the close of its weeklong program.

At the earliest, however, the US won't be seeing its next round start for another two years, and maybe even longer.

While the ad liminae were suspended for 2000's Jubilee Year (before 2004, the prior US visit came in 1998), the combination of John Paul II's declining health and B16's lighter-paced, more detail-oriented style in matters administrative has combined to make for a "quiet revolution" which now sees each bench's turn taking place on a seven-year timetable. This month's visit by the Central Asian bishops, for example, was their first since February 2001; earlier in the year, the same's roughly been the case for, among others, the bishops of Cuba, Haiti, Myanmar, Nicaragua and Ecuador. The rate isn't falling behind any further, but hasn't been sped up, either: when the Irish and Canadian bishops made their pilgrimages in 2006, they were likewise presenting Septennial Reports -- the two conferences last made their visits in 1999.

On the master calendar set by the Congregation for Bishops, the US shares its stage of the cycle with other hot-button groups of visitors, the bishops of Australia, France and the perennially-challenging turf of the Netherlands among them. Just before these usually comes the conference of England and Wales, whose last pilgrimage took place in October 2003.

Regardless of homeland, the ad limina places each local church under the Vatican's microscope. With the Holy See briefed in advance by each diocese's extensive Quinquennial Report (multiple copies of which are sent over and disseminated among the various dicasteries), the bishops' Masses at the apostles' tombs and 15-minute individual sit-downs with the pontiff might be the week's highlights, but the guts of the trip are invariably spent on tour to the offices of the Roman Curia -- an experience that, in the current pontificate, has intentionally been made more user-friendly.

While prefects in earlier times saw fit to lecture -- or, in at least one case, doze before -- their visitors, groups who've already made the trip under Papa Ratzi have noted a distinct, uniform change toward the service-oriented approach employed by Cardinal Ratzinger when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Overwhelmingly rated the best of the Curial field-trips under John Paul II, the now-Pope sought to engage the groups in conversation, both offering input on whatever local situations his callers would seek his advice on, feeling them out in return on the state of things at home and the challenges they faced.

Comments, names and faces all absorbed into his mind, 23 years of the sessions -- in other words, close to five comprehensive reports on the global church, all without leaving his office -- provided Benedict with an unparalleled arsenal of pinpointed intelligence on his ascent to Peter's chair, both on the situations the dioceses faced on the ground, and on the personalities best-suited to tackle them in more-prominent postings.

As no shortage of Ratzinger's post-election writings and nominations betray, it's all come quite in handy. And with his well-known devotion to paperwork, a key benefit of the slowed-up schedule of the visits is that the Quinquennials -- which, on a good day, Papa Wojtyla might've skimmed before receiving their authors -- can get a thorough pre-audience reading by B16... which they do, at least to the degree that bishops have been left floored by, or stammering at, some of the Pope's questions or observations on what's happening at home.

And when he wants to send a message back -- either on his own or through others -- Benedict's been known to do that, too.

On the Ontario leg of the Canadian visit in September 2006, after the passage of a law permitting same-sex marriage nationwide, the Pope told the prelates from the North's largest province that "in the name of ‘tolerance’ your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse, and in the name of ‘freedom of choice’ it is confronted with the daily destruction of unborn children.

"When the Creator’s divine plan is ignored," Benedict added, "the truth of human nature is lost."

Thanks to the recording equipment specially brought in for the talk, the papal "scolding" was beamed across the Pond before the visitors even left the Apostolic Palace.

Along the same lines, the pontiff's first aired comments on clergy sex-abuse didn't come during his US trip, but in his 2006 ad limina speech to the Irish bishops and his confession of "horror" over the crimes during the week's one-on-one with Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns, the newly-ordained head of the Isle's hardest-hit diocese.

While the pontiff's Teutonic precision almost invariably means that his one-on-ones with the bishops run not a second longer than 15 minutes, the encounters have been known to run longer when he's concerned, impressed -- or, to put it bluntly, "auditioning."

When their day finally comes, though, the Americans' next visit won't just be different in form.

For starters, with the whole of the 2004 pilgrimage overwhelmingly focused on the imperative of renewal -- both "of the episcopal office" and the US church at large -- in the wake of the clergy sex-abuse crisis, the topic won't fade completely from the agenda in the coming round, but developments since will likely see it situated more as one spoke of the larger wheel than another turn as the event's mental launching-pad.

Of course, the landscape can change overnight along the way, but the five common priorities set by the USCCB over the coming decade -- namely, the strengthening of marriage and family life, increasing priestly and religious vocations, re-energizing worship and sacramental practice, working to protect human life and dignity and encouraging cultural diversity in the church -- would be next time's even-money springboard.

From there, among the host of issues that keeps the Vatican's mind occupied over things American, it'd be reasonable to likewise expect yet another call to renewal, both of souls and structures; Catholic identity and fidelity to church teaching in education and catechesis; an accounting of the morale of priests and efforts to foster healing with survivors; a plug for the by-then imminent implementation of the new Missal translations; reflections on culture, governance, sanctification, the "collection of prohibitions" and the church's credibility in the public square... and, indeed -- with another presidential cycle just around the corner by that time -- a meeting of the minds on Catholic politicians who fail to line up with the Magisterium.

In sum, there's no better measuring-stick than the "marching orders" given on these shores over a week in April... and how well they've been carried out.

* * *
Its first message given precisely a year before his death, John Paul II's talks from the 2004 ad limina can well be read as his "farewell" to the American church.

As a supplementary resource, listed below -- in chronological order, listed by province(s) -- are links to the discourses:
  • Region XIV -- Atlanta, Miami; 2 April
  • Region IV -- Baltimore, Washington, Military Services; 29 April
  • Region VI -- Cincinnati, Detroit; 6 May
  • Region XI -- Los Angeles, San Francisco; 14 May
  • Region X -- Oklahoma City, San Antonio; 22 May
  • Region VII -- Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee; 28 May
  • Region XIII -- Denver, Santa Fe; 4 June
  • Region XII -- Portland in Oregon, Seattle, Anchorage; 24 June
  • Region I -- Boston, Hartford; 2 September
  • Region III -- Newark, Philadelphia; 11 September
  • Region II -- New York; 8 October
  • Region IX -- Dubuque, Kansas City in Kansas, Omaha, St Louis; 26 November
  • Region V -- Louisville, Mobile, New Orleans; 4 December
  • Region VIII -- Saint Paul and Minneapolis; 10 December
PHOTOS: Bishops of Central Asia(1,2,4); Archdiocese of Nassau in the Bahamas(3)


"Whose Servant Do You Claim To Be?"

From the Premier See of these United States, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien's column for tomorrow's Catholic Review.

Fulltext; emphases original:
An Appeal to Those Who Seek or Hold Public Office

In the midst of this protracted election season, a seeming division among the Catholic leadership in our country has emerged, representing different approaches to this year’s document of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Despite these differences, the Catholic bishops of the United States remain totally and universally committed to the foundational principle advanced in the document: Disrespect for any human life diminishes respect for all human life.

This conviction, which reflects the constant teaching of our Church, has also notably been a guiding principle of our nation since its founding—a unique fact not lost on Pope John Paul II who, as he departed Baltimore-Washington Airport in October, 1995, heralded:
“At the center of the moral vision of [the American] founding documents is the recognition of the rights of the human person.” The strength of the United States lies “especially [in its] respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life in all conditions and at all stages of development.”
And during his visit to the United States this year, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in similar fashion: “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.”

And so I pose this question to all public servants—and surely those who are Catholic—as civilized human beings, as Americans, as faithful Catholics: Can we not all “begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing of, any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem”? (US Bishops, 1998).

Some elected officials who are Catholic accept that life in the womb from its very conception is human, others muddle the issue, but from the dawn of Christianity until very recently Western civilization has treated every life as sacred, and modern science increasingly supports that with overwhelming evidence.

For one to claim to be a loyal, practicing Catholic and to actively support public policies that advance the cause of abortion is to embrace a moral contradiction. Our Catholic faith teaches unequivocally that abortion unjustly destroys innocent human life, and that to engage in activities that explicitly cooperate in this moral evil is objectively a grave and mortal sin. As with any other member of the Church whose actions stand in serious contradiction to our faith, we reach out to them in prayer, asking that they seek a change of heart and the restoring grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation before approaching Holy Communion.

In his Encyclical on the Eucharist last year (Sacramentum Caritatis), Pope Benedict XVI specifically addressed “those who, by virtue of their social or political position must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman…” He called these values “non negotiable” and continued:
“Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators…must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature.”
The Pope here appeals to “Eucharistic consistency,” suggesting an “objective connection” between the reception of the Eucharist and the obligation to publicly witness our faith. Receiving Holy Communion is not a private devotion but a public act. In doing so, Catholics proclaim and give witness to their oneness, their “communion” with Christ and His Church.

Consider St. Paul’s dire warning in pleading for respect and reverence toward the Eucharist: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:27). The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of irreverence toward the Eucharist as a sacrilege, a particularly grave sin against the first commandment.

Our Conference of Catholic Bishops has agreed overwhelmingly that there can be differing pastoral approaches at this critically teachable moment. Some American bishops, after engaging public office holders to no avail on this serious issue, have opted to forbid their reception of the Eucharist within their jurisdictions. In so doing they are within their rights, and I respect their decision. However, and upon soul-searching reflection and prayer, I have decided that I will not take this public step. Let me note the following points in support of what I pray is a prudent decision on my part:
1. In contrast to and in spite of the measured tones of several bishops who have made this decision, many of the letters I have received and advertisements I have seen calling for this penalty reflect an uncharitable anger and even a vindictiveness that undermine the healing intent of those bishops’ decrees.

2. At this stage, the divisive result of such an action in the Archdiocese of Baltimore both within and outside the Catholic community would, in my opinion, prove counterproductive to our evangelizing efforts and to our overall unity.

3. In this unique and highly-charged atmosphere, it is likely inevitable that such a step, in spite of any appropriate attempts on our part to explain it, would be distorted as constituting an unwise and unwarranted intrusion of the Church in the political life of the community. It might even undermine pro-life politicians, suggesting that their position is simply a consequence of pressure from the institutional Church, rather than the result of the Church’s clear obligation to defend the dignity of every human life.
How grateful we must be to those public figures (a good many of whom are not Catholic) who often put their careers on the line in defense of innocent human life. As for those Catholics unwilling to defend life, I would hope that prayer and the graces that would accompany discussion and persuasion would help bring about a conversion of mind and heart. We ask no politician to do anything unconstitutional or immoral in pursuing legal steps to avoid the killing of innocent human life and in defending women too often victimized and traumatized by a powerful abortion industry.

We ask all our public servants to reflect upon the words of St. Thomas More, the patron saint of those who hold public office. From the gallows which would soon claim his life, he declared that he would die “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” Whose servant, my admirable friends in public life, do you claim to be?

As a bishop of the Catholic Church, I must be authoritative in explaining the Church’s 2000 year teaching on a matter as basic as life and death. I pledge not to be confrontational, however, and would welcome a private discussion of this message with those who seek or hold public office.

Finally, I ask for your prayer for me and our Conference of Bishops as we meet here in plenary session next month in efforts to provide just and effective moral guidance for our people and our leaders whom we seek to serve.
PHOTO: Angelina Perna/Baltimore Sun


"50 Bishops"... and Then Some

If I could stop time, gang, this would be getting a more intensive intro... but such is the crazed nature of these days that time without havoc is fairly tough to come by.

Over the last week -- and, clearly, without any mention here -- a piece your narrator penned for last Saturday's edition of The Tablet made the rounds to a surprising degree, its lede running as follows:
A quarter of America's bishops have said that the most important issue for voters in the forthcoming presidential election is abortion....
For the record, besides being the standard (much-)longer-than-needed, the first graf I submitted was a bit more nuanced. In their wisdom, however, my editors decided to play up a figure not included in the draft, but an offhand estimate subsequently provided at their request. As some of you know by now, the number in question was 50 -- in other words, over a quarter of the heads of the nation's 197 dioceses.

All told, the number of active US bishops hovers somewhere around 250, auxiliaries and coadjutors included. In essence, though, the head-count that counts is that of the ordinaries -- each diocesan bishop being the chief teacher, lead pastor and vicar of Christ among his fold (and, for practical purposes, the church voice most looked to in each market to set the tone).

The piece barely appeared before requests started coming in for a list with citations, so in light of those, a fairly comprehensive attempt appears below. Before heading into it, however, for clarity's sake, a couple things need to be noted.

First -- as one would expect given the heated, divisive nature of the campaign's home stretch and the focus on the "Catholic vote" -- attempts have been made to either minimize or maximize the degree of motu proprio episcopal pronouncements on the election. In that light, the standard applied here was a fairly straight-forward one: individual or joint statements issued in the period of the general election campaign (Labor Day onward) that unmistakably highlight the life issues as paramount in the context of Faithful Citizenship and the coming vote. (The spates of corrections following Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Biden's Meet the Press appearances tackled a separate matter -- i.e. clarifying church teaching after specific, egregious, nationally-televised misinterpretations, as opposed to electoral guidance -- and, ergo, do not appear.) As you'll see, the approaches taken are extraordinarily diverse, but each has that one clear thread in common.

Second -- not every statement out making the rounds has made the cut. No doubt, one-in-four is an impressive number, but even beyond it, this election season has seen a new high-watermark of the US bench taking the Faithful Citizenship text into its own hands, even though its latest edition (first introduced for the 1976 presidential elections and revisited every four years since) was, in a first, debated and approved by all the bishops at last year's November meeting instead of its prior publication by the conference's Administrative Committee alone.

Bottom line: despite the 97.8% approval from the body of bishops last November in Baltimore, for every Chaput there's a Steib, a Zavala for every Vasa, a Dolan for every Duca, a Kinney for every Egan, a Sheridan for every Sartain, and so on... and so on... and on even moreso.

In other words, they all -- well, all but three -- voted for it... but going deep into the bench, you'll find that the implications of the text find broad, divergent swaths of interpretation and emphasis. This is, after all, a "Flock of Shepherds," and even for all the words swirling around -- historic as it is -- a majority has still decided to keep its counsel through these days, choosing instead to let what it already approved as a body to speak for itself.

Third, and lastly, it should come as no surprise that elements of the discourse have used the moment to reair the standard disputes over the nature and authority of episcopal conferences and, so it seems, every other slab of time-honored ecclesiastical red-meat under the sun (because, well, if it doesn't come out at election time, when does it ever?). Yet even so, beyond the dioceses the church's authoritative position remains the one reaffirmed by two of its top leaders (speaking for all the rest) last week -- namely, "that Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is the teaching that has been approved by the body of bishops of the United States."


Except in Scranton.

With that, here's the slate -- cardinals and archbishops in order of seniority and (because this isn't Canada) all others alphabetically by name of diocese.

As more emerge, the following will be continually updated:
For those not adept at tallying... without double-counting that makes a grand total of 70 diocesans, plus 19 auxiliaries.

PHOTO: AP/Steve Ruark


Maryknoll Picks New Top Missionary... and Peace Agent?

Last week, the New York-based Maryknoll Society chose a local boy done good -- its procurator general Fr Edward Dougherty -- as its new superior general.

Founded in 1911, the community's trademark has been the missions -- both to those geographically at the margins, and those here at home on the edges of society. Yet given Dougherty's prior role as Maryknoll's lead Vatican liaison, it's been said that his new mission doubles as a peace offering to Rome after one of its members got in CDF-grade hot water for attending a purported women's "ordination" in August.

From the order's Westchester home-base, Gary Stern muses:
One has to wonder: Will Dougherty’s connections at the Vatican help with the fall-out from the Roy Bourgeois affair?

You might remember that Father Bourgeois—one of Maryknoll’s best-known priests because of his work to close the School of the Americas—is in hot water for taking part in a “ordination” ceremony for a female priest this past August.

Maryknoll’s current leadership issued a “canonical warning” to Bourgeois, telling him that he has broken church law. Their findings were then sent to the Vatican.

But Bourgeois has no regrets, insisting that the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to ordain women is sexist and discriminatory.

He told me: “As a Catholic priest – and this is important – I cannot possibly speak out about the injustice of the war in Iraq, about the injustice of the School of the Americas and the suffering it causes, and at the same time be silent about this injustice in my church. I belong to a huge faith community where women are excluded, and I have a responsibility to address this.”
Likewise the postulator for the causes of beatification for two of the Society's founders -- Bishop James Walsh and Fr Thomas Price -- the incoming superior will serve a six-year term.


Tragedy in Moscow

Two Jesuits working in the Russian capital -- including the Society's superior for the whole of the former Soviet Union -- have been stabbed to death:
Otto Messmer, who heads the Russian Independent Region of the Society of Jesus, and Colombian priest Victor Betancourt, were found dead in their apartment on Petrovka Street, with severe bodily injuries.

"They did not answer telephone calls, so their brothers in the order went to their apartment, where they found them already dead," Igor Kovalevsky, the general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, told reporters.

The motive for the killing is not known, he said.

Earlier reports said the priests were injured in a fight near their house involving two other individuals. A local police source said the clerics died from injuries sustained in the fighting....

The Russian Independent Region of the Society of Jesus, which was officially registered in June 1992, carries out educational and missionary work throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States.

RIP "Catholic Vote"?

As the Anglo faithful track blueward, an obit from today's LA Times:
What we're seeing in [Colorado, Pennsylvania and Missouri] is the end of the Catholic vote, as conventional political strategists traditionally have expected it to behave -- in part because it's now so large it pretty much looks like the rest of America; in part because of its own internal changes. National polls have shown for some time that, although Catholics are personally opposed to abortion, they believe it ought to be legal in nearly identical percentages to the rest of America. Moreover, as a survey by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found earlier this year, only 18% of Catholics "strongly" agree with the statement: "In deciding what is morally acceptable, I look to the church teachings and statements by the pope and bishops to form my conscience."

There's also a profound demographic shift occurring in this sector. Nearly one-third of all American Catholics now are Latinos, as are more than 50% of all Catholics under 40. They have broken overwhelmingly for Obama because of his stands on the economy and immigration. (Shades of the 1840s.)

What all this suggests is that, in this and coming election cycles, we may see a new model for the Catholic vote, one whose participation more closely resembles that of Jews, 75% of whom are overwhelmingly pro-Democratic, while a devout minority, the Orthodox, tends more strongly Republican. If you break the Catholic vote down in roughly the same pattern, you get something that looks like the current national spread. According to most reliable data, slightly less than one in four Catholics now assist at weekly Mass and are more open to GOP policies, while the overwhelming majority of their co-religionists have cast their lot with the Democrats' domestic and foreign policies.

In other words, back to the future.
On a related note, with their state a sudden toss-up, potentially heading blue for the first time since 1976 (and, er, no less than Jesse Helms' Senate seat now hanging in the balance, to boot) the bishops of North Carolina have released a last-minute joint letter to remind their quickly-growing flocks that "the intentional destruction of innocent human life is an intrinsic evil that can never be supported, and the protection of human life from conception until natural death is preeminent among our moral values.

"In the hierarchy of truths," Bishops Peter Jugis of Charlotte and Michael Burbidge of Raleigh added, "this truth is never morally equivalent to all the other issues embraced under a consistent ethic of life."


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"La Carezza del Papa"

On this half-century of his election, it's well worth re-running one of John XXIII's most-celebrated moments: the impromptu "Moonlight Talk" he gave from his window on 11 October 1962 at the close of a candlelight vigil commemorating the opening of Vatican II, which took place earlier that day....

Dear sons and daughters,

Feeling your voices, mine is just one voice that sums up the voice of the whole world.

All the world is represented here tonight, and it could even be said that the moon hastens close to watch this spectacle that not even St Peter's Basilica, over its four centuries of history, has ever been able to witness.

My own person counts for nothing -- it's a brother who speaks to you, become a father by the will of our Lord but all together, fatherhood and brotherhood and God's grace, give honor to the impressions of this night, which are always our feelings, which now we express before heaven and earth: faith, hope, love, love of God, love of brother, all aided along the way in the Lord's holy peace for the work of the good.

As you head home and find your children, embrace your children and tell them: "This is the embrace of the Pope." And when you find them with tears to dry, give them a good word, tell them the Pope is with us especially in our times of sadness and bitterness.

Quote of the Day

"The Church does not impose but freely proposes the Catholic faith, well aware that conversion is the mysterious fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift and a work of God, and hence excludes any form of proselytism that forces, allures or entices people by trickery to embrace it. A person may open to the faith after mature and responsible reflection, and must be able freely to realise that intimate aspiration. This benefits not only the individual, but all society, because the faithful observance of divine precepts helps to build a more just and united form of coexistence".
--Pope Benedict XVI
Ad Limina Address to the Bishops of Central Asia
Rome, 2 October 2008



More from Martinoville... and Beyond

As a follow-up to last week's sudden intervention by its bishop at a parish forum on the elections, the diocese of Scranton has released a strongly-worded video slamming the claims of Democratic-friendly lay lobbies to "authentic church teaching" -- concentrating its focus, as one would expect, on a single issue.

What's more, a bolded notice on the front page of the current diocesan weekly blares that while "certain groups and individuals have used their own erroneous interpretations of church documents, particularly the U.S. Bishops’ statement on Faithful Citizenship, to justify their political positions and to contradict the Church’s actual teaching on the centrality of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research... individuals who make statements about Catholic teaching do not speak with the same authority or authenticity as their bishop."

Both the video and print notice explicitly (and repeatedly) call out both Catholics United and Catholics for the Common Good, which -- like every other lay-partisan group, irrespective of faction -- are not sanctioned by competent ecclesiastical authority.

Meanwhile, in the pews, GOP surrogates have already taken to blaming the likelihood of a Democratic win on "abuse" of the Faithful Citizenship text, as -- speaking of Blue-leaning lay groups -- the National Catholic Reporter asks whether "a conscientious Catholic" could "vote for McCain."

And lest the church elsewhere wasn't already aware that the rift on these shores extends beyond the nave, the following lede from the Stateside shop's lone official in-house agency has now gone global:
As the presidential election campaign was drawing to a close, some US bishops urged Catholics not to base their votes on one issue alone, while others said no combination of issues could trump a candidate's stand on what Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan called the "premier civil rights issue of our day" -- abortion.
Bottom line: with all this as backdrop for the marquee agenda-item awaiting them in Baltimore just 13 days hence, the American hierarchy is heading toward its most significant plenary since Dallas.

As if things weren't surreal enough already.

One week to go... at least, 'til the election.


On Election Eve, Bush Huddles with Bishop...

...sure, that mightn't surprise most folks.

But, no, it's not what you'd think.

Earlier today, the departing POTUS met with the new Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo -- the onetime "bishop of the poor" who resigned his see to run for the post, and was laicized by Rome shortly after winning election in April.

From the latter's Oval Office remarks:
Many people have asked, why now? And I think that it's particularly important to visit President Bush in his last days in the White House because we think it's very important to impress upon the world the importance of democratic institutions, and also because we believe that we, as individual people, pass. We have written that our personal history is not as important as the history of our respective peoples.

In Paraguay, I have entered politics in order to change the history of our country. We have not come into politics in order to get into the smokeless industry that is to steal from the people of the country. We came in as Christians, because our Christian duty is to serve the poorest and the neediest of our people. And today, as President of Paraguay, we're taking on all of the challenges with the greatest serenity possible so that we can help our people.
We are profoundly hurt in our souls by poverty, by the exodus of our young people, by the lack of education, by people who don't have roofs over their heads. We are profoundly moved by those people. But that pain is also impregnated with courage and decisiveness. And we have said since the very beginning that if there was anything that was to distinguish our government, it would be international solidarity.

I'll never forget that when I talked to one of our agricultural people, one of the people out in the country, a farmer who said, "What we need is bread. We don't care if it comes from the left hand or from the right hand, we just need somebody to give us food." And that's why we're here, because the Paraguayans have asked us to be here as President to try to recover Paraguay's dignity as a nation.

And I told President Bush that we have a lot of dreams, collective dreams, but also my personal dream. And our dream is that Paraguay be known not for its corruption, but for its transparency and for its dignity as a people and as a country. And we believe, we're convinced, that we will be able to achieve that.
PHOTOS: Reuters(1); Eric Draper/The White House(2)


The "Ebbing" of the Liturgy

At their annual meeting last week in Milwaukee, the nation's diocesan liturgical directors chewed over the latest CARA stats revealing a 23 percent weekly Mass-attendance rate among American Catholics...
From the survey of 1,007 self-identified Catholics, 20 percent attend Mass every week, 11 percent attend almost every week, 10 percent attend once or twice a month, and 3 percent attend more than once a week. Thirty two percent attend rarely or never.

"We've seen an erosion in the faith life of people because of that lack of practice," Bishop [Blase] Cupich, a member of the U.S. bishops' ad hoc committee on liturgical translations, said in an informal discussion with participants on current liturgical issues.

The statistics force the church nationwide to ask what people are searching for in the liturgy, but the church cannot let the discussion be driven solely by people's desires, Bishop Cupich said. Respondents to the CARA survey placed higher importance on feeling the presence of God at Mass and receiving the Eucharist as opposed to the homily, music and environment.

Reasons for missing Mass ranged from 51 percent of those attending Mass at least once a month being too busy, to 48 percent of the same group citing family responsibilities. From the CARA survey, 68 percent of respondents believed they could be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday and 57 percent believed that it was not a sin to skip Mass.

Bishop Cupich cited the upcoming revisions to the Roman Missal, which contains the texts used in the celebration of Mass, including the responses by the congregation, as a perfect opportunity to create enthusiasm and renewal in the church. (See related sidebar outlining coming changes.)

"How do we use this moment, this opportunity and be a teaser, inviting people?" Bishop Cupich said. "Something new is coming. Americans love that theme."
[Americans may love the theme of the new... but, candidly, there's (at best) an even split on love for the White Book vs. the lack thereof.]
"The way the church is calling us to pray is going to deepen the lives of people," Bishop Cupich said. "We are a church always in reform. We are a church mining the depths of our tradition. This is a mine that is very deep and we should be excited about this.... We're pliable. We can stretch our lives. This is a moment for us to ask, how are we being renewed?"

Another trend noted by the CARA survey was the lack of belief in the real presence in the Eucharist. Only 57 percent of respondents said they believed that Jesus Christ was truly present in the Eucharist.
In their main liturgical item of the coming November Meeting, the bishops will revisit the "gibbet" with a "mulligan" vote on the previously-rejected second section of the revised Mass translations.


"Il Buon Papa," 50 Years On

A half-century ago today, white smoke pouring from the Sistine Chapel announced a new Pope... the most surprising choice of all, who quickly became the most beloved... the elderly, "transitional" figure who ended up being the most transformative of all.

To mark the milestone, a treat from the archives -- Fulton Sheen on John XXIII...

(Speaking of Sheen, a non-Catholic TV reporter recently recounted meeting The Great One, terming the experience a "fleeting encounter with a mystery that I'll never comprehend.")

...and the "noble simplicity" of Papa Roncalli's coronation:

SVILUPPO: Vatican Radio airs a tribute, including audio from Election Day 1958...

...and tonight -- at the close of a St Peter's Mass celebrated by his Secretary of State -- B16 made an appearance in the basilica to pray at his predecessor's tomb.

PHOTO: Reuters