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Very brief observation on Anglican-Catholic relations

The Holy See tends to see the Anglican Communion as the Church of England;
Anglicans tend to see the Catholic Church as the Church of Rome.

While Rome and Canterbury are sister churches in need of full communion, they represent communions broader that the local primatial sees!

Thank you, Dame Mary Tanner.

Seriously, Anglicans, referring to the Catholic Church as the “Roman Church” is equivalent to Catholics referring to the Anglican Communion as the “Church of Canterbury”, or “Canterburian Church”.

Moreover, “Roman Catholic” is better suited for the Latin Church – it excludes all the Eastern Catholics. It is entirely inaccurate to apply this name to the entire Catholic Communion. Even if you can find pre-Vatican II era Catholic texts that do so (the only post-conciliar texts which do so are ecumenical concessions…)

There are more Catholics in say, Brazil (130 million), than in Italy (50 million). More Catholics in the Church of Mexico City (7 million) than in the Church of Rome (2.5 million).

I have lived near, and even in, the same monastery from which St. Gregory the Great sent missionaries to England at the turn of the seventh century, so i understand the deep relationship between the Church of England and the local Church of Rome, but let us remember the bigger picture.

As for the Holy See, one could hear in recent years the lament that “there’s no point in ecumenism any more now that they ordain women bishops.” As if the 2015 ordination of Allison White in the Church of England was the first in the Communion, and not Barbara Harris in 1989 in the Episcopalian Church (U.S.).

Similarly, the Holy See tends to see all of Lutheranism as it if it is the German Evangelishkirche. How easily some forget the episcopal polity of the Nordic countries or that there are as many Lutherans in Ethiopia as in Sweden (about 6 million each).

This is, i think, a symptom of Euro-centrism. It is a parallel to the linguistic myopia wherein Europeans insist on learning, and seeing as normative, Portuguese of Portugal (10 million speakers) rather than Portuguese of Brazil (201 million speakers); Spanish of Spain (46 million) rather than Spanish of Mexico (120 million); British English (60 million) rather than American English (300 million).


Papa Francesco: Two Years On

popefrancis4Today marks the second anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as bishop of Rome. They have been, without question, the two most hope-filled years in a lifetime of study and service of the Church. Most people, including most Catholics, have rejoiced in Pope Francis’ style, simplicity, and dedication to reforming the Roman Curia.

It made for a great 35th birthday present, very slightly anticipated!

Sadly, this is not a consensus feeling among the faithful, perhaps particularly among Anglophones in Rome and those in positions of authority in the Roman Curia. A couple weeks ago, on the anniversary of the first papal resignation in six centuries, this pithy post showed up in my newsfeed:

..Two year’s ago today, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.

Thus beginning the craziest two years of our lives.

Papa Bennie, we miss you. …

I respect Pope Benedict, perhaps even more so because of his strength of character, as witnessed by the resignation itself. His ecclesiology and personality were both strong enough not to buy into the false mythology of a papacy that is more monarchy than episcopacy, or that requires clinging to power rather than absenting oneself from service when no longer able to serve well.

We all find resonance with different leaders, whether bosses or politicians, bishops or popes. It is natural that some people will like one more than the other, but I have a hard time understanding those who claim to be “confused” by Pope Francis, or who think that the last two years have been difficult for the Church.

A recent conversation with friends revealed, of course, those not satisfied with Pope Francis: On one side, the traditionalists who were given the keys to the kingdom under Benedict are now back to being treated as a minority in the Church – which is only fair, as they are, but I can commiserate with the feeling. On the other, genuinely liberal Catholics tend to be unhappy with the Holy Father’s language on women, not sure whether referring to (lay and religious) women theologians as “strawberries on the cake” is meant to indicate that they are mere decoration, or something more appreciative.

Neither side is confused: they know clearly what they do not like. Whether I agree with either side, they know where they stand and I respect that. It is the commentators claiming “confusion” who are not to be trusted. There is nothing confusing at all about a gospel message of mercy and humble service.

Nevertheless, for the broad swath in between liberals and traditionalists, the last two years have been like fresh air after decades of sitting on a Roman bus, stifling because the old-school Italians refuse to let the windows open lest we get hit by moving air and therefore damage our livers. Somehow. (What is the ecclesiological equivalent of a colpo d’aria?)

If the Good Pope opened the windows of the Church at Vatican II to let it air out a bit, it seems much of the trajectory of the last decades has been, if not to outright close them again, to pile up so many screens and curtains that the effect is nearly the same. Francis has opened it again to let the light and fresh air in. Sure, the dust gets blown about that way, but blame it on those who let the dust gather, rather than the one who starts the spring cleaning!

To be fair, if not concise, the analogy would extend to Benedict having attempted the same, only to discover that he did not have the strength. (Though, after years of investing in multiple layers of curtain lace, you ought not be surprised at the surfeit of suffocating material you then have to remove to get at the ‘filth’ hiding in the darkness provided thereby. But I digress.)

I have little doubt that Pope Benedict will be a Doctor of the Church someday, and in addition to his massive corpus of theological writings, his act of spiritual humility and demonstration of truly sound ecclesiology by resigning as bishop of Rome will be the reason it happens.

I have lived through two of the greatest papacies in recent centuries, but if there has been a truly good pope in my lifetime, it is Francis. Two years is nowhere near enough, may he live for twenty more, sound of mind and body, and bring to closure the reforms started fifty years ago. It is perhaps our best hope for unity in the Church, which in turn is the best hope for an effective witness to the Good News.

Bishop Gerhard Müller to CDF

The rumor has been floating around for some months, and this week it was announced that Cardinal Levada has retired as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and the bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Müller, has been appointed to take his place.

His official biography and extensive information can be found in English at his diocesan website.

The two NCRs cover the story here:

Talking with one of my German colleagues in Rome, she was complaining how the German press has continued to remind people that this was once the office of the Universal Inquisition. That, and that Müller  has been widely painted as an archconservative and favoring the current trend towards traditionalism.

I chuckled and pointed out that most of the English-language blogosophere seems to focus on his connection to Liberation Theology, and that if anything, the traditionalists have protested because he is “heretic”  and a “modernist” – terms almost inevitably misused, but that is nothing new.

I have read only one of Müller ’s books, and that is his Priesthood and Diaconate, which I have used for my License thesis. He writes to counter the arguments made by some German feminist theologians that women have been and ought to be ordained to the diaconate. The major argument he sets out to counter is that, although the question of ordination to the priesthood – understood as the presbyterate and the episcopate in this case – has been closed since John Paul II’s 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the question of the ordination of women to the diaconate remains (ostensibly) open.

First, it is interesting to note that in the translation, there are a couple of humorous editorial notes attached to his text. This same German friend keeps remarking that the problem with German theologians, ministers and ecclesiastics is that they all think that “the German Church is the center of the Catholic Church”- or whatever issues are big in the German world must be the main issues for the universal church. Not unlike the American/anglo-phone phenomenon, actually.

At various points in his book, Müller  demonstrates this by saying something like “theologians in the whole world are asking this question” or “everyone seems to think this is an inevitability”. But after the translator and editor have their input, it looks like this: “theologians in the whole [German-speaking] world are asking this question” or “everyone [in Germany] seems to think this is an inevitability.”

More substantially, I was struck that he seemed not to address the most fundamental ecclesiological point of the argument he was trying to counter and correct. The argument for the ordination of women to the diaconate, in the current context, is that, if you maintain that within the one sacrament of holy orders there are not only three orders, but two distinct classes of orders – one to the priesthood and one to ministry/diakonia – then you can argue that a prohibition of ordaining women to priesthood does not necessarily dictate a prohibition to the ordination of women to diaconate.

However, if you argue that the three distinct orders within the one sacrament are modeled in a Trinitarian concept, then this argument might collapse, and if women cannot be ordained to one order or another it can be argued that they cannot be ordained to all of them. Müller’s strongest move, it seems, if his intent is to demonstrate that women cannot be ordained even to the diaconate, would have been to argue the unity of the sacrament. Instead, he maintains throughout his text this scholastic division between priesthood and other, the very point that the target of his investigation needs to retain in order to make her argument.

It is also interesting to note is that Bishop Müller  was heavily involved in the International Theological Commission’s Report on the Diaconate, From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles, which itself does not close the door on the question of ordaining women to the diaconate.

All in all, he seems an accomplished theologian, interested in ecclesiology and ecumenism, with a healthy ability not to get stuck in some of the old images and models of theology; he is able to judge aspects of liberation theology on its merits, rather than treat it like a bad word, as so many in the anglophone world are sadly wont to do. On the other hand, it seems that the question of women in the diaconate may be closed soon, before the non-German speaking world even had a chance to realize it was open.

I am looking forward to reading more, and seeing what the future brings.

Gustavo Gutierrez, father of liberation theology, and Gerhard Muller, at one of their annual sessions.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum today…

OK, I was not anywhere near the forum, but at Villa Richardson, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, for their annual (anticipatory) Independence Day celebration. But, I have been wanting to use that line since I got to Rome, and never quite worked it in.

So, at Roman noon today, I saw an update from the Vatican’s new-ish news mega-portal,, officially announcing Cardinal Levada’s retirement and the appointment of Bishop Gerhard Müller to the post of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. So, I reposted it on Facebook.

Tonight, at the Embassy’s Independence Day party, about eight hours later, a curial monsignor mentions to me he heard about the appointment through my Facebook post. “What, there’s no internal memo on these things?” I asked. He just laughed.

Having just celebrated the patronal feast of the city and Church of Rome, it serves as a reminder that, in the Vatican, you can rob Peter to pay the left hand while the right hand does not know what Paul is doing. Or something like that.

Catholic-Jewish Emerging Leadership Conference

Catholics and Jews: Our Common Values, Our Common Roots
Second Catholic-Jewish Emerging Leadership Conference

My first chance to participate in a national ecumenical conference was almost exactly ten years ago, in May 2002. Five years later, I was invited to present in a plenary session at the 50th Anniversary of Faith and Order in the US, at Oberlin. Last week, I gave my first plenary presentation at an international, Vatican-sponsored interreligious dialogue.

Forty scholars and religious leaders under the age of forty, from a dozen countries, were gathered at the invitation of the Holy See’s Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews  and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC).  The nexus of these two groups is the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC). The bulk of our meeting took place at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in northwest Connecticut, with a day of meetings in New York City. Before and after, a few of us were able to enjoy the city itself, for some informal sharing and reunions – already, five of the other participants were friends or colleagues from Europe and the States.

As is usually the case with such things, the best dialogue and exchange tended to happen between the official agenda, as good as it was. But the former is always inspired by the latter, and this was a good model for developing leadership in dialogue for the reason that it allowed the ‘emerging leadership’ to actually engage in the conversation. The leaders of the two delegations, Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, president of IJCIC, and Fr. Norbert Hofmann, SDB, secretary of the Holy See’s Commission, were present throughout the conference but aside from their role in introducing the history and context, largely stepped back and served as advisors and guides.

Contrast this to other experiences of academic conferences where the ‘emerging generation’ of ecumenists, religious leaders, et al., are invited to attend and even give a presentation on topic, but the conversation is still largely dominated by established authorities, and may be about the dialogues, but does not allow for an actual dialogue to take place. To put it another way, the agenda of this conference was modeled after an official dialogue at the highest level, in many ways, including the topical presentation of papers on both sides on a given issue, discussion and break out groups.

The schedule also managed very well to provide the necessary background for those who were new to dialogue, as well as keep things interesting for the veterans among us. Some of the Jews present had never heard of Nostra Aetate, and some of the Catholics had not known about Dabru Emet. Others, like the Russell Berrie Fellows in attendance, had made a study of the dialogue and already were familiar with a wide range of thought on the dialogue.

Our first day was basically introductory, with presentations on the Commission, IJCIC, and the ILC and an opening presentation on “The Rise and Development of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity” by Prof. Schiffman. There were three major elements of the recurring agenda, which were the plenary presentations, the working groups, and the resource sharing workshops.

The plenaries were the official presentations, consisting of two 30-45 minute presentations, one Catholic and one Jewish, followed by between 30 – 60 minutes of questions and discussion, depending on the length of the presentations.

The first plenary was “Catholic-Jewish Relations post-Vatican II” with presentations by Rabbi A. James Rudin and Fr. Lawrence Frizzell. On day two, the second plenary was “Men, Women, and the Family” offered by Dr. Adena Berkowitz and Fr. W. Jerome Bracken, CP. The third plenary explored “Religion in Public Culture”, with yours truly for the Catholics, and Marc Stern, Esq., of the AJC for the Jewish side.

The working groups followed explored pre-determined themes of the conference, and met twice. People could stay with the same group both times, or rotate. These explored the themes of Justice and Charity; Religious Prejudices and Responses to Hate Crimes; Religion and Secular Society; the Role of Religious Leadership. I was asked to facilitate the last, along with a young rabbi serving as university chaplain at Leeds in the UK, though to be honest, there was not a lot of facilitating needed with this group!

The resource sharing workshops were opportunities for participants to raise issues and share from their own experience. As an example, Eveline van der Ham and David Angeles-Garnica, with the help of Andrea Ponzone, led a presentation on their experience at the Lay Centre, “Living in interfaith community” which they summed up with three key points: pray together, play together, and ‘prost’ together.

We spent one long day in Manhattan, dressed in business garb at nearly 100 degrees, I was reminded how much more manageable this is when nearly every building and form of transport is well air conditioned, a luxury not often found in Rome!

Our first appointment was with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, at his residence, and with his ecumenical/interreligious officer. His eminence came in and was literally kissing babies (well, the one baby present), and shaking hands (of literally everyone in the room). “He’s the Bill Clinton of the Catholic Church” was whispered in one corner, so stereotypically the American politician, presented 15 minutes of remarks without notes and with lots of enthusiasm. We were also given a short tour of the cathedral, including a visit to the crypt and the tomb of Ven. Fulton Sheen.

We then travelled to Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship, and met with Chancellor Arnold Eisen, Prof. Burt Visotzky (Midrash), and David Wachtel, the head of the rare books collection, which includes manuscript letters from Maimonides, and part of the Gutenburg bible, among so many other truly rare Hebrew texts. It was encouraging to hear Prof Visotzky even mention this year’s John Paul II Lecture given by Cardinal Koch in Rome.

After this we visited a reform synagogue known for its outreach work, Congregation Rodeph Sholom  and north america’s first jewish congregation, the Sephardic orthodox congregation Shearith Israel, better known as the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue.

That’s just the official program… more to come, from Shabbat services to S’mores-making lessons.

On the removal of bishops

Twice in the last three months, Vatican Information Service has announced something which, for the last decade, Vatican officials have said was not actually possible: The pope has removed bishops from the pastoral care of their dioceses.

I have mixed feelings on these announcements.

On March 31, VIS reported that the Holy Father had removed his brother bishop Jean-Claude Makaya Loemba from the pastoral care of the diocese of Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo. On May 2, it was announced that he had removed Bishop William M. Morris from the pastoral care of the diocese of Toowoomba, Australia. In neither case was the relevant canon cited which would indicate the actual conditions under which the bishop was ‘removed’.

Bishop Bill has been getting lots of press, both supportive and critical. There has been virtually nothing else on Bishop Jean-Claude. This is the first disappointment – a Caucasian Anglophone bishop gets removed and there is all sorts of coverage, but an African bishop gets the same and… nothing? Really? I know there can be lots of reasons for this: access to internet media, maybe it is all being reported in French, maybe there just is not support for Bishop Jean-Claude as there was for Bishop William, etc. But it still looks bad.

The reasons noted in press outlets for Bishop Jean-Claude’s removal include “mismanagement problems (not moral ones) and tensions in his diocese” – by which is apparently meant tensions with his presbyterate. If every bishop with management problems were removed, we would see this kind of thing a lot more often. This is something that commentators on both left and right picked up on: mismanagement alone is not sufficient for the removal of a bishop, according to canon law. In a global corporation, maybe that would be the case, but this is the Church. So maybe it’s the issue of tensions with the presbyterate – we saw in the case of Cardinal Law that he was not asked to go until his priests declared ‘no confidence’ in his leadership, no matter how many protests from the laity and other ministers.

For the last decade of the sexual abuse crisis, amid calls for the Pope to do something more direct, we have constantly heard that he cannot simply remove malfeasant bishops, that a process must be followed. And then this, where he appears to do just that. But I think partially it is that he appears to do that – and probably this is an inaccurate report by VIS. Both EWTN and Ed Peters, both decidedly right-of-center on ecclesiastical issues, comment on this, so put to rest any accusations of this being a ‘liberal’ complaint.

This is an issue from at least two directions. First, a bad process always leads to a bad decision, even if the actual outcome is a good one. This is moral theology 101 – the ends do not justify the means. So, either there was a better process in place (seems likely) and it was just poorly communicated (still part of the process), or it was a bad process from start to finish.

Second, and more importantly, bishops are not middle management, carrying out their tasks vicariously authorized by the pope – at least, in theory (theology) and in law. In practice however, and in popular Catholicism, this is exactly what they are. The problem here is, if this is what they are, then the Holy See is liable for lawsuit on abuse claims based on the idea that the pope is the supervisor of the bishops. The Vatican’s defense in recent cases was precisely based on Catholic ecclesiology that the bishops are not branch-managers of a global conglomerate. However, if they can be appointed and removed at will by the ‘central office’ then, legally, that is exactly what they are – and the Vatican itself becomes liable for their actions while in office.

With the case of Bishop William “Bill” of Toowoomba, which has generally been focused on a 2006 pastoral letter in which the bishop mused on creative alternatives to the priest shortage in his diocese:

Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of Eucharist for the identity, continuity and life of each parish community, we may well need to be much more open towards other options for ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated. As has been discussed internationally, nationally and locally the ideas of:

  • ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community;
  • welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry;
  • ordaining women, married or single;
  • recognising Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders.

We remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.

The obvious problem point is “ordaining women, married or single”. At least, it should be obvious. Since 1994 and the publication of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the popular understanding is that “we cannot talk about ordaining women anymore”. This is not exactly accurate, as the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate, or as deaconesses, is not excluded and is still very much debated. (I am currently reading an interesting book by Bishop Gerhard Müller who argues that this document meant to exclude the diaconate as well, however).

Many people are not aware that the CDF, under Joseph Ratzinger, a year later issued a Responsum ad Dubium stating, “This teaching… has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium” – probably because this claim was repudiated by various theologians expert in the infallible magisterium of the papacy as “not fitting the criterion” to make it such. Some of this was confusion between ex cathedra teaching (which this clearly is not) and the more ambiguous claim to infallibility because it is an exercise of the ordinary and universal magisterium. Much however is based on the argument that the exclusion of women from ordination is not a matter of faith or morals, but of ecclesiastical discipline, and therefore not eligible for “infallible status”.

The rest are valid and viable ideas, to differing degrees. Canon 277.1 obliges all clerics to “observe perfect and perpetual continence … and therefore are bound to celibacy”, but the same canon (277.3) allows the diocesan bishop to establish more specific norms or dispense with this requirement. This is used regularly for deacons, and for priests who are former Orthodox or Anglican priests or Lutheran pastors. Clearly, as a discipline, clerical celibacy is not part of the deposit of faith, is neither irreformable nor infallible, and a (theologically and pastorally, if not politically or prudently) reasonable option for discussion.

Ecumenical dialogue has as one of its goals the recognition of orders and ministries – we can certainly pray for the day when either we can honestly recognize in the orders of these other churches the full understanding of ordained ministry we see in our own, as we already do with the Orthodox and other ancient eastern Churches. And we hope for the day when those ministries are exercised together in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Fundamentally, though, the question comes down to this: If the Holy Father can “remove from the pastoral care of a diocese” bishops whose fault is less serious than shielding pedophile priests, why can we not do the same for those who do?

Fighting Irish in Rome; Vatican Communications

Sacred Heart Basilica and Main Building at Notre Dame

The Notre Dame Alumni Club of Italy is not particularly large, there are only about 60 people on the mailing list, and most are clustered around Rome or Milan. We had our first club gathering that I was able to attend tonight at the Holy Cross generalate, an apartment building owned by the order in a residential neighborhood just a few bus stops from the west end of the metro A line. There were about a dozen of us, a few Holy Cross priests including the superior general, Fr. Hugh Cleary, a couple of fellow Angelicum students, a couple of curial staff , and a young couple teaching at the American International School of Rome.

Conversation ranged from the usual introductions and getting to know you chatter to the challenges of life in Rome and obtaining the fabled Permesso di soggiorno or even Italian citizenship or a driver license. Given the state of the Church these days, however, one of the interesting topics was the clergy sex abuse/cover up scandal, the Holy Father’s role in cleaning up the Church, and mostly, the Church’s communication challenges.

Much has improved in the last decade, on one hand. You need only compare the responses of the curial leadership to the crisis in Europe in the last few months with the responses to the crisis in America in 2002 to see that Pope Ratzinger has had a positive effect on dealing with the problem realistically, but there is still a lot of work to be done – not just in the substance of solutions, but even more in the Vatican’s communication’s organs and “getting the word out” of the good work already done.

Vatican Radio building

Few people realize just how disjointed the Holy See’s communications systems really are, though that has been made painfully clear with some of the well-intentioned but misguided attempts to “defend” the pope by some church leaders recently. There is no Vatican communication plan, no central organizing body. Each was set up in response to the development of a new media. Guttenburg comes along and we get the Vatican press; then Marconi and Vatican Radio; TV, a web page, etc, etc.

There is a Pontifical Council for Social Communications, but without the juridical authority of a Congregation, they can only make suggestions and maintain good working relations with the other communications apparatus’, which include:

  • Vatican Information Service
  • L’Osservatore Romano (The Vatican Newspaper)
  • The Vatican Publishing House
  • Sala Stampa della Santa Sede (The Vatican Press Office)
  • Centro Televisivo Vaticano (Vatican TV)
  • Radio Vaticana
  • The Holy See’s Web page

Not only are each of these separate, but most are in different buildings, some in several (Vatican Radio, for instance, has three different locations, I believe). Moreover, some have their own web-presence that does not go directly through the Vatican web page. Some dicasteries have their own information services and bulletins, from the Acta Apostolica Sedes to the PCPCU Information Service, which are not always available electronically or in translation.

It seems like the time is ripe for a major restructuring. It would not be easy, no doubt, and the directive has to come from the top, but there is no shortage of skilled lay people in the Church who could create a more effective communications strategy. In fact, they do not have to look further than the sons and daughters of Our Lady’s University to find a gold mine of resources right here in the Eternal City!

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