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August is normally a quiet month in Rome.
A month ago today, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick, 88, from the college of cardinals. And that was merely the beginning.
This was a first: No pope – none – has removed a cardinal for reasons related to the sex abuse scandal in recent memory, if ever. Compare Francis’ two immediate predecessors:
When it became known in 2013 that Cardinal Keith O’Brien (Scotland) was found, like McCarrick, to have engaged throughout the 1980s-90s in the abuse of power, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault of adults under his authority, Pope Benedict (who would announce his retirement a few days later) finally accepted his retirement as archbishop, and allowed him to go on retreat for a period of “spiritual renewal, prayer and penance”. Ostensibly on his own volition, O’Brien choose not to participate in the conclave the following month, but there is no indication that there were any sanctions imposed on him as a cardinal by Benedict.
Only after Francis was elected was a visitation and investigation initiated – again, something unprecedented – and when the results of the investigation landed on Francis’ desk, O’Brien was he relieved of the “rights and duties” of a cardinal, though he still remained a cardinal, entitled to dress and be addressed as such. It was a bizarre half measure, some attest to Benedict’s intercession.
When Cardinal Bernard Law was found to have covered-up sexual abuse by priests in Boston for years, and his resignation from that post eventually accepted, Pope John Paul II gave him an honorary post as cardinal-archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and allowed him all the rights and duties of cardinal, with a great deal of influence in the Roman curia for several years to come. Benedict did not change this, allowing him to continue unabated until retiring at the age of 80 from these roles.
We can only imagine how many other cases there have been without any public action on the part of popes at all.
Now comes this letter of former nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Viganò, claiming, among many other things, that Pope Benedict had in fact placed McCarrick on some kind of (double secret) suspension, but that Pope Francis had allowed McCarrick freedom again, and for this reason he should resign. (More on that later).
Pope emeritus Benedict has not, as of this writing, said anything about them, nor has Pietro Sambi, who was apparently responsible for communicating them to McCarrick. Pope Francis apparently trusts our ability to read critically enough to see Viganò’s letter for what it is, and no more.
Viganò claims that “the Cardinal was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel,with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.”
It seems unlikely that there were any such restrictions, except perhaps the request to move out of the seminary.
First, if such sanction existed, the failure to make them public would be a grave scandal in itself. “Secret” laws are no law at all, and one of the issues at the heart of this ongoing scandal is the lack of transparency. In which case, yes a pope would be morally at fault for failing to act appropriately, and for covering up knowledge of an abuser. But that pope would be Benedict, not Francis.
It does not stretch the imagination much to think that the old guard would have thought this an acceptable solution: McCarrick was elderly, no longer a threat, and already retired both as archbishop and on curial dicasteries. Let him meet his maker without another public scandal. Very Romanità. Very much the kind of thing Francis has decried since the beginning.
Even if this were the way it played out, wrong though it might be, that would not be reason enough for Benedict to resign (though he eventually did). It would be reason to confess his error, correct it, and never do it again. It certainly is not a reason for Francis to resign.
But Ockham’s Razor suggests that most likely, there never were any formal sanctions. Certainly, both Pope Benedict and Viganò “violated” these sanctions if there were, concelebrating mass with McCarrick, being at public events with him, and saying and doing nothing about it.
What is more likely is simply that McCarrick was told to sell his beach house and stop spending summer vacations there with seminarians (done in 2000) and then, in retirement, not to reside in the seminary. Which he did. And that’s about it, as far as ‘sanctions’ seem to have gone, until Pope Francis acted.
The culture of secrecy that pervaded the Church up to and including the papacy of John Paul II, only slowly began to crumble under Benedict XVI, and finally being torn away by Francis, is part of the clericalism that allowed this filth to spread thoroughly through the House of God.
As with any serious housecleaning, things get messier before they get organized, the dirt becomes more visible – but you don’t blame the cleaner! As with anyone shining the light of Truth into dark corners, those who prefer the darkness will do anything to put out the light.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19
We are in the midst of an extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, called at the end of the celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, capping commemorations that started with the Year of Faith. For the last four years, the Church has marked this anniversary in a number of ways.
In October 2012, Pope Benedict presided over a solemn liturgy commemorating the opening of the Council, with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Rowan Williams in places of honor at his side. Also honored during the event 16 Council Fathers, any of the approximately 3000 bishops who participated in at least one of the four sessions of the Council. (At the time, there were several dozen still living).
They were joined by eight Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, 80 Cardinals, 191 Archbishops and Bishops participating in the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, together with 104 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences from throughout the world.
Today, a few months after celebrating the anniversary of the close of the Council, there are about 35 living Council Fathers; 19 of whom lived through all four sessions.
In this Jubilee of Mercy, i repeat a proposal i first made during the Year of Faith:
Make the remaining Council Fathers members of the College of Cardinals.
At the least, those who were Council Fathers for all four sessions.
The senior-most, Bishop Jan van Cauwelaert, CICM, of Inongo, Congo has been a bishop for more than 62 years. The junior of those present throughout the Council is Seattle’s Archbishop emeritus Raymond Hunthausen, ordained bishop mere weeks before the opening of the first session. (Full disclosure: Hunthausen confirmed me)
Of the 35, four are already cardinals, Francis Arinze, Jose de Jesus Pimiento Rodriguez, Serafim Fernandes de Arujo, and Sfeir (of those, only Arinze was not at all four sessions of the Council).
So, that means 15 new cardinals, if only those from all four sessions, or 31 if all of them.
All are over 80, so none would be voting. This is not about who selects the next pope or appointing people whose work lies in the future.
This would be an honorary step, something to mark a half-century of episcopal ministry and leadership in the rarest and most solemn exercise of their ministry of governance over the universal church. This is about honoring the Council, and the entire church. A small, but symbolic gesture.
Most likely, most would not be able to attend a consistory to receive the red hat and ring, but simpler may be better.
I think it would be a nice way to close out the Year of Mercy, a final way to mark the 50 years of blessing brought by the Holy Spirit through the universal and extraordinary magisterium of the Church, expressly in a spirit of synodality.
Granted: any credibly accused of sexual abuse of children, covering up the same, or other similarly grave matters should be excluded.
[Found in the archives of half-written posts, from shortly after the election of Pope Francis, the third anniversary of which we have just celebrated]
When your pastor retires, he is not called Father Emeritus John Smith.
Rather, Father John, Pastor emeritus of St. Whatshisname Parish.
When your bishop retires, he is not called Bishop Emeritus Sean Patrick Murphy.
Rather, His Excellency, Bishop Sean, Bishop emeritus of Brigadoon.
Or, His Eminence, Cardinal Sean, Bishop emeritus of Brigadoon
(if also has a Roman suburbicarian see, titulus, or diaconiae).
When the pope retires, he ought not be called Pope Emeritus Benedict.
Rather, His Holiness, Pope Benedict, Bishop emeritus of Rome.
From such a good ecclesiologist as Ratzinger, the style Pope Emeritus always struck a discordant note. He knows better than most that there is no office of pope, and therefore no emeritus pope, only the office of bishop of Rome to which the style of “pope” adheres. (Like the priest who is styled “father”).
Roman Pontiff emeritus, also offered in the official statement, never really took off, either (can’t imagine why…).
Turns out, it apparently was not his idea, and he would have been happy with “Father Benedict” (or Pope Benedict, since “pope” just means “father” anyway), as a style. This also recalls and reminds us of the practice that all clergy – bishop, deacon, presbyter – can be addressed as “Father”, not only the presbyterate.
That would have made a lot more sense: Father Benedict, Bishop emeritus of Rome.
John Allen’s article commemorating the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s resignation this week points out that for all the attention Pope Francis has received this year as a ‘revolutionary’ or ‘reformer’, the single most revolutionary act by the bishop of Rome in the last year was Benedict’s humble and courageous decision to retire.
Even here in Rome, studying at the heart of the Church, I found out first through Facebook.
It is a great example of something that should not have been surprising, or all that revolutionary. Certainly, it was, given the climate and context of the Church in recent decades. Following on the heels of the soon-to-be saint John Paul II, who lingered in office several years longer than was probably good for himself or for the Church, one might have thought it was blasphemous to suggest something of the sort. In a sense, Benedict, being the excellent ecclesiologist that he is, had to resign, to disabuse the papacy from the personality cult, and remind us that every office in the Church is one of service and ministry; not power, prestige, or persona.
The impact on the conclave was obvious, as many commentators have already noted. Rather than an overwhelming outpouring of grief at the death of the towering figure of John Paul II that got his right-hand man elected, the cardinals were able to take better stock of the real situation in the Church and especially in the curia, and set about doing something about it.
It never ceases to amaze me how strong the current is that was in favor of the retreat from reform (sometimes called a ‘reform of the reform’) in a Church that has declared, a the highest level of authority, ecclesia semper purificanda. The truth is that there is no purification without reform; there is no reform without action. We must act to change the Church, so that the Church can change the world.
For the last generation, we have been told repeatedly that ‘tinkering with Church structures’ is not what is needed; instead, greater personal holiness is the all-encompassing solution. There is both wisdom and naivety in such statements. The wisdom is that prayer is paramount, and holiness is indeed a necessary virtue in all Christians; the naivety is that tinkering is not what is needed not because it is ineffective, but because some structures have been so badly neglected for so long that any ‘tinkering’ is just putting lipstick on a pig. Anything short of a radical and all-encompassing overhaul is complicity, or at least complacency.
But in a sacramental reality, we cannot underappreciate the real value of a change in tone; we cannot dismiss it as superficial. Which is not at all to buy into the oversimplified dichotomies we see, both in secular media (e.g.Rolling Stone) and in the reactionary wing of the fold that contrast Benedict and Francis, putting one or the other in a completely unfavorable light.
It has always seemed to me that Benedict’s biggest liability was not (just) a hostile secular media who never let go of the image of God’s Rottweiler – because in truth, his biggest fans never did either, still hoping for the hammer of heresy to drop. It was about image, though: His apparent penchant for baroque bling distracted from his genuine reform efforts.
For too many in the church, these trappings of power and privilege – whether imperial, renaissance, or baroque in origin – go hand in hand with clericalism and the sex abuse scandal. Who can forget that it was the church of lace surplices, brocaded maniples and mumbled latin anaphorae – with its concomitant failure at human formation in seminaries and warped ecclesiology – that brought us the greatest wave of scandal the Church has faced in the modern age? It does not matter that there is little or no direct causal relationship, but the correlation is too widely fixed: “traditionalism” = clericalism = abuse of power = a climate of permission for child sex abuse.
Joseph Ratzinger had long been trying to redeem that, to separate out the legitimate traditions from their accrued associations. He may have a point that the transition from the Missal of Pius V to that of Paul VI was too abrupt, but his solution came forty years too late. Add that to his well-established reputation and the series of administrative and communications fiascos, and there was only so much he could do.
So he did what he could: he set the stage for someone without the same baggage to come along and continue the good work he had started. I can imagine that he realized the cost of trying to restore some place in the mainstream for the older form of the liturgy came at too high a cost, or that the cause of reunion with the SSPX was lost. Or perhaps he saw his work done already: he brought the tridentine liturgy out from the periphery and into the center of the Church, in whatever small way. He left no more excuses for “traditionalism” to be a code word for dissent, and planted the seeds that may redeem that part of our liturgical patrimony from its oft-associated failures in ecclesiology, pastoral formation, and leadership.
Thanks to Pope Benedict, contemplation and action could again meet in the endless effort of Church reform. There is much to be done, since, in some respects, the Church stopped being interested in self-purification and reform sometime around the time I entered adolescence, as if the whole idea had been a failed experiment of the 70s and 80s rather than a movement of the Holy Spirit.
Enter Pope Francis, who genuinely seems to be setting about to reform the Church, perhaps (we can hope) on as grand a scale as Gregory I or VII, Pius V, or John XXIII. Some will call anything he accomplishes too little, too late; others will denounce it as too much, too fast. I would instinctively err on the side of the former, considering how many centuries it often takes to resolve problems in this institution, but in the last year it has been hard even to keep up with the constant flow of good news. I continue to pray for deep, genuine, and theological reform of the Church, and I have hope that it is coming. The Church is, after all, called to be holy, too, not just the people in it!
As if there was not enough in the Church reform circuit today, with the Roman pontiff’s second big interview and the first meeting of the Council of Cardinals responsible for reforming the apparati of universal governance, the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (Institute for the Works of Religion), better known as the Vatican Bank, issued its first-ever annual report in its 125 year history.
The groundwork was laid by Pope Benedict in 2010, whose most successful reform efforts, arguably, revolved around Vatican finances. The efforts were accelerated after Pope Francis was elected.
In 2012, the IOR commemorated 125 years of history since the creation of its predecessor, the “Commissione ad Pias Causas”, by Pope Leo XIII in 1887.
According to the president’s letter,
The Annual Report seeks to contribute to the transparency which the Catholic Church, our customers, our correspondent banks, our authorities and the public rightfully expect.
The IOR posted earnings of EUR 86.6 million, which allowed us to contribute EUR 54.7 million towards the budget of the Holy See, while transferring EUR 31.9 m to our general operating risk reserves.
And we are conservative: in 2012 we had a balance sheet total of EUR 5 billion in assets, with equity of EUR 769 million. On an operating level, we stand on very solid foundations.
The IOR has about 18,900 customers, half of which are religious orders. The dicasteries and nunciatures of the Holy See account for another 15%. Bishops and other clergy are about 13%, dioceses 9%, and the rest split between employees, educational institutes, and of course, the Holy See itself and the Vatican City-State.
The IOR launched its first website in July of this year: www.ior.va.
The full 100-page report is available for download or review here.
A recent conversation highlights the challenge of talking about “hope” and “change” in the Church.
A few weeks ago I had a quick lunch with an old friend and a new colleague. Eventually my friend (a Notre Dame alumna, “new evangelist” and educator) and I got into a lively discussion about “change” in the Church, given all the hope that has been expressed lately about what changes Pope Francis might bring.
My position is basically this: it is naïve to think that the Church does not change, and it is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst to suggest that the Church cannot change. The Batman meme above vividly demonstrates a misguided and wrong-headed understanding of the Church.
“The Church should change” does not mean “the truth must/can change”. It is Church discipline – and often really just Church culture – not dogma, which should change in the minds of most. Though there are always exceptions, I suspect most Catholics are not agitating for moral relativism, an end to Trinitarian theology, a return to Arianism, denial of the Resurrection or the Real Presence, promoting abortion or war, that we do away with ordained ministry or that we change the Sunday Eucharist into an hour long drum circle featuring Kumbaya in a dozen different languages.
What most Catholics mean when they say that they hope for change in the Church is ecclesiological, ecumenical, pastoral, and practical. They want a positive gospel message (“God is love” or “Love God and thy neighbor”, and all that radical wishy-washy stuff, you know); they want better preaching, better music, better liturgy; they want transparency and accountability in church decisions, participation in governance, and maybe even more married clergy and less clericalism. They want bishops (and pastors, deacons, DRE’s et al.) to be servant-leaders, not lords of their own fiefdoms. They want ecumenism and interreligious dialogue to work, and to have real effect. They want more effort spent on social justice than on ecclesiastical protocol, more money spent on education and pastoral care than on neo-Baroque bling.
But my experience of most Catholics, admittedly, is based on my experience in parish pastoral ministry and Catholic higher education. My friend has spent several years on the front lines of pre-evangelization, new evangelization, and even good old-fashioned evangelization and catechesis, often in the context of guiding groups of pilgrims and students around Rome’s most sacred sites.
Her position was that “the church should change” is basically code for “the church’s teaching about morals should change to match the social norms of the western world.” When people say change, they mean that the church should get out of its old-fashioned rut, and embrace a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, equal rights (and rites) for women in the ecclesiastical workforce, and so forth.
That it may be, in some cases, just as in others, “the church should change” means “the church should eliminate the novus ordo, go back to the Tridentine rite, and embrace traditional Catholic culture (circa 1940).”
The problem, though, in assuming that “the church can/must change” is code for a particular agenda is that it stymies the possibility of real conversation and dialogue. The Church is in fact always changing. All we have to do is look at the papacy of Benedict XVI to see a number of examples of change in the church. And no one can accuse Ratzinger of being radical, wishy-washy, or unorthodox.
He changed the liturgy, both in terms of the translations and in terms of the mark his own personal preferences have had. Even just during my four years in Rome, you could see lots of changes to the liturgy at St. Peter’s – longer, less participatory music; rosaries before mass begins; communion no longer offered in the hand; a crucifix and candles dominating the altar; cardinal-deacons vesting in mitre and dalmatic; etc., etc. He changed canon law to exclude deacons from acting “in persona Christi capitis,” making this phrase more about Eucharistic presidency and less about holy orders or leadership in the Church. He innovated in creating ordinariates for disenchanted Anglicans. He pushed forward reforms relating to the sex abuse crisis (at least for priests, if not bishops). He created a personnel office for the Vatican. He called in an outside audit of Vatican finances.
In short, the Church changed a lot under Pope Benedict; why would we not expect it to change with Pope Francis? The Church changes, and survives. Change simply means that things are different than they were before. It is a sign of life, and of fidelity to the principle ecclesia semper purificanda (the church must always be purified). Rather than dismissing the idea of the church changing, embrace it – critically, intelligently, and faithfully.
Remember Dante’s Divine Comedy – God is pure dynamism. The only creature which cannot change is Satan, eternally frozen in the deepest pit of hell.
My friends can tell you that I have a bad habit. Actually, more than one, but only this one is relevant at the moment. When going through my email inbox, I tend to scan everything, then work from the least important first ‘saving the best for last’, so to speak. Especially after a busy week, I might spend an hour just sorting through quasi-spam and quick reply messages, clearing the space so I can respond to the really important ones. The problem is that I too often run out of time, and messages from my closest friends or strongest ecumenical contacts languish a little too long awaiting attention. The same logic has log-jammed my blog lately.
Since about two weeks after Pope Francis was elected as bishop of Rome, I have sat down several times to start a reflection on his fledgling papacy. The problem is, every time I do this, I get distracted reading about whatever exciting new thing he has done. Often they are little changes, gestures and actions, but they paint a picture of humility and commitment to reform, openness to dialogue and noble simplicity of faith and its expression.
By now the litany of these little things is well known: He appears on the balcony dressed in the simple white simar, like John Paul I, rather than the mozetta and stole of JPII and BXVI. He asks for our blessing before offering his own. He makes personal phone calls. He demonstrates astute ecclesiological acumen by referring to himself as the bishop of Rome, and his predecessor as bishop emeritus of Rome, exclusively. He stops by to pay his hotel bill in person. He moves an entire liturgy out of St. Peter’s and into a juvenile prison. He washes the feet of women and Muslims. He calls the Patriarch of Constantinople ‘my brother Andrew’. He’s formed a representative committee of cardinals to reform the governance of the Catholic Church – or at least the Roman curia. He has unblocked the path to sainthood of one of the 20th century’s great martyrs, Oscar Romero. And so on…
A couple weeks after he was elected, one veteran vaticanist noted that “suddenly, everyone around here is laughing and smiling.” A senior colleague said “I had forgotten what it was like to be so encouraged and inspired.” A fellow student commented that it “felt as if a burden has been removed that I did not know I had been carrying my whole life [c.35 years]”
Although great joy truly has the reaction of the vast majority of people to Francis, not all have been positive. It took the traditionalist fringe all the way until Holy Thursday (15 days after election) to retreat into the old safeholds of disrespect and antagonism. First, they blame the press for creating a false Francis vs. Benedict comparison, and leap on every fan’s expression of praise for Francis as though it were an insult to Benedict. Some immediately decried his humility as false, a kind of stage prop, and held up as a paragon of true humility the faithful master of ceremonies of Benedict XVI, novus Marini, for ‘suffering’ the loss of his lace. They have accused him of being a slob, of undermining the office of the papacy. Basically, they are afraid of change, hurt that the first pope since Pius XII to actually like all the neo-baroque nonsense resigned, and afraid of a return to the days when people were excited about the changes that Vatican II promised. [e.g.]
Everyone else had just long since forgotten what it was like to feel excited about the prospect of change in the church.
Earlier this month a Jesuit friend told me how his confreres have noted that the ‘young people’ do not seem to like Francis very much. The problem, though, here in Rome, is that ‘young people’ are judged as is everything else: clerically. The seminarians under 40, the same ones who were drawn to the priesthood as a power structure, certainly are nervous. But everyone else is giddy. The young, the old, the long-suffering and the fair-weather, everyone is happy but for those who invested in birettas and lace surplices (cf. John Allen, Jr.). But even for them, there remains a place in the Church. How could there not? No one is threatening their particular peculiarities and liturgical peccadilloes. But they simply are no longer being championed as the next big thing.
Yesterday, Pope Francis’ comments to the Conference of Latin American Religious were leaked, in which he seems to suggest not taking the CDF investigation of Religious too seriously, bemoans his own lack of administrative organization, acknowledges the problem of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, and identifies as two of the most significant concerns today the Pelagianism of restorationist/traditionalist movements, and the Gnosticism of certain spiritualist movements.
One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council… One feels in 1940…” The Pope is then said to have illustrated this with a joke: “when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting…
(Though, it strikes me now, what will this mean for all the plenary indulgences I have been able to accrue while living in Rome? I have been saving them up for a rainy day, and now the numbers do not matter? Sheesh…)
Yet, lest you fear (or cheer) His Holiness’ critique of the extreme fringe as a radical departure from his predecessor, Andrea Tornielli reminded us of this commentary on the same topic from then-Cardinal Ratzinger:
…the other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act…
Joseph Ratzinger, “Guardare Cristo: esempi di fede, speranza e carità” [Looking at Christ: Examples of faith, hope and charity]. 1986.
The sense now, for most, is that people are hopeful, but hesitate to be too hopeful. More and more, people are reminded of John Paul I, Papa Luciani, who had the same simple, honest way with the Petrine ministry and the hope that he had instilled that the reforms of the Council would continue, only to have those hopes dashed after only 33 days. Three months after Francis’ election, I think some people are still afraid that their hopes will not have the chance to come to fruition. But hope it is.