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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2014 (Rome)


The schedule of events that i could collect to be celebrated here in Rome for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This excludes several parishes which dedicate daily liturgy and/or devotions to the theme. 

Settimana di preghiera per l’unità dei Cristiani

Has Christ Been Divided? Cristo non può essere diviso! (I Cor 1.1-17)

General information on the Week of Prayer can be found here.




Thursday, 16 January:  Day of Jewish-Christian Dialogue and Reflection

 18.00      Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Fifty Years after Nostra Aetate: A Latin-American Perspective
Rabbi Abraham Skorka at the Pontifical Gregorian University
Moderated by Cardinal Kurt Koch

 Saturday, 18 January

16.30       Incontro di preghiera dei consacrati/e della Diocesi di Roma
Basilica San Lorenzo fuori le Mura

 17.30       Vespers at Capella di Santa Brigida, Piazza Farnese  96
Cardinal Kurt Koch, Archbishop Leo (Chiesa di Finlandia), Bishop Makinen (Luterano),
Bishop Sippo (Diocesi Cattolica di Helsinki),  and Bishop Brian Farrell

[invite]      Vespers at Pontifical Beda College, Viale San Paolo 18
Very Rev. Ken Howcroft preaching

20.00      Ukrainian Catholic (Byzantine Rite) Divine Liturgy – Basilian Fathers, Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Sunday, 19 January

 11.00       Catholic Eucharist with Archbishop David Moxon Preaching
Caravita Community, Via del Caravita 7

12.00       Angelus with Pope Francis, Piazza San Pietro

16.00      Celebrazione Ecumenica Finlandese
Bishop Teemu Sippo, SCI (Catholic), Bishop Kari Mäkinen (Lutheran), Archbishop Leo (Orthodox)
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva ,Piazza del Minerva 42

18.00      Incontro di preghiera del Gruppo Romano del SAE
Capella delle Suore Francescane di Maria, Via Macchiavelli 32

18.30       Celebrazione Ecumenica Tedesca with German/Hungarian College, S. Maria dell’Anima
At Christus Kirche Via Sicilia 70

20.00      Roman Catholic (Latin Rite) Eucharist– Archbishop Piero Marini, presiding
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Monday, 20 January

18.00      Anglican Choral Evensong  with Ven. Jonathan Boardman Preaching
Basilica San Paolo fuori le mura

18.30       Santa Messa at Parocchia di S. Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci
19.30       Conferenza “Il movimento ecumenico, la santità”, Padre Ciro Bova

20.00      Greek Catholic (Byzantine Rite) Divine Liturgy – Pontifical Greek College
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

Tuesday, 21 January

11:45       Anglican Center Eucharist, Piazza Collegio Romano 2

18.30       Santa Messa, Parrocchia S. Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci
19.30       Conferenza: L’ecumenismo, il punti di vista dei fratelli ortodossi”, P. Vladimir Zelinsky

 20.00      Syro Malankara Catholic (Antiochene Rite) Holy Qurbana – Damascene College

Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

Wednesday, 22 January

10.30       General Audience with Pope Francis, Sala Audienza Paolo VI

[Invite]   Vespers at Pontifical Irish College, Archbishop David Moxon preaching

18:30    Venerable English College, Rev. Keith Pecklers, SJ, preaching

18.30       Santa Messa at Parrocchia di S. Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci
19.30 Confronto e dibattito sul tema della santita nell/’ecumenismo: P. Ciro Bova, P. Vladimir Zelinsky

20.00      Armenian Catholic (Armenian Rite)  Divine Liturgy – Armenian College
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Thursday, 23 January

16.30    Mixed Salad Ecumenism in the Caribbean: Is there a Future? 
Archbishop Donald Reece, Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston, Jamaica;
Followed by a Celebration of the Word with
Rev. Willie McCulloch presiding, and Very Rev. Ken Howcroft preaching
At Centro Pro Unione, Via S. Maria dell’Anima 30 (Cosponsored by Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas)

18.30       Diocesan vespers at with Ven. Jonathan Boardman preaching,
SS. Martiri dell’Uganda, Via Adolfo Ravà 31

20.00      Maronite Catholic (Antiochene Rite) Divine Liturgy – Maronite Order of the BVM
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

Friday, 24 January

 20.00      Gruppo Incontro at Chiesa Valdese, Piazza Cavour

20.00      Romanian Catholic (Byzantine Rite) Divine Liturgy – Romanian College
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Saturday, 25 January

 17.30       Papal Vespers, Basilica San Paolo fuori le mura (tickets required)

20.00      Ethiopian Catholic (Alexandrian Rite) Divine Liturgy – Pontifical Ethiopian College
Santa Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso 306

 Sunday, 26 January

16.00      Churches Together in Rome Unity Service
Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, Secretary General of Canadian Council of Churches
Basilica San Silvestro in Capite, Piazza di San Silvestro 17A

Monday, 27 January

14:30     Il concilio e ecumenismo: Lectio Conclusiva di ‘Il Concilio Vaticano II: Storia e Sviluppi
Bishop Charles Morerod, OP,  bishop of Lausanne, Genève et Fribourg
at Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum)




US Embassy to the Holy See: no closure, downgrade, or presidential plot…

Ambassador Hackett presents his credentials to the Holy Father

Ambassador Hackett presents his credentials to the Holy Father

As always, the busier and more interesting things get, the less time I have to write about them.

But sometimes something comes up that here, you do not even think will be a thing, only to find it exploding the internet on the other side of the Atlantic.

A week ago, the National Catholic Reporter  ran a story detailing how five of the former US Ambassadors to the Holy See were upset that the Embassy was being moved. That was the first I had heard of it, and I thought some fo the reactions seemed a bit over the top… but then you cannot expect much from partisan political appointees on either side of the aisle.

Naively, I suppose, I still expect people to read more than headlines. Especially absurd headlines like the following:

Notice how only one of these misleading leads did not start by blaming President Obama by name?

The facts are simple, and were clear even from the first reports:

  • The US is not closing the Embassy to the Holy See
  • The US is not pulling out of its diplomatic relationships with the Holy See
  • The US is not downgrading the diplomatic status of its relationship with the Holy See (e.g., from Ambassador to Special Envoy, or something)
  • The US is not combining the Embassy to the Holy See with the Embassy to Italy
  • The US Ambassador is not moving his residence, only the offices.

This was confirmed by the current and immediate past US Ambassadors to the Holy See, and the State Department again in a conference call today.

The US has four places (Rome, Vienna, Brussels, and Paris) with multiple missions in the same city, and in each case there have been moves to bring the separate embassies together physically, while maintaining separate missions, staffs, budgets, and space.

Current US Embassy to the Holy See

Current US Embassy to the Holy See

The current US Embassy to the Holy See is in a converted private home near the Circo Massimo, and while I daresay it is a better view than to be had by its big sister on Via Veneto, it is hard to have a larger meeting there than about a dozen people. It would probably make the support staff, the local staff and interns, feel a little less isolated, considering they are a much smaller crew than at US Embassy Italy.

While I can certainly see arguments for the separate location in terms of keeping a clear identity, it seems this has already been a consideration and will be seriously  maintained. Rome has three, not two, US embassies: One to Italy and San Marino, one to the UN Food Agencies, and one to the Holy See. The first two are already on the same property, but in different buildings. Adding the third does make sense economically, even if it is a drop in the bucket compared to overall waste… every little bit helps.

It is worth noting that the US Embassy to Italy does double duty to the other  micro-state completely surrounded by the Italian Republic, that of San Marino. A pretty obvious contrast between that situation and the proposal for that of the Holy See should put to rest any concerns about this being a move to combine or downgrade the Embassy to the Holy See.

What is interesting, yet unsurprising, to me is the narrative of President Obama being rabidly anti-Catholic, and that this is just one more example of his ‘war on religion/the Catholic Church’. While i certainly find several areas of disagreement, which should be rather obvious, I find this assertion as convincing as the narrative of Pope Benedict being a mean-spirited old man who was only interested in rules and regalia while actively covering up the clergy sex abuse scandal. Both have a powerful hold on the imaginations of large portions of the American population; both are false.

The current and former US Ambassador to the Holy See have the most ‘Catholic’ credentials of any persons to hold the office – not in terms of holiness, spirituality, or personal faith, to which I cannot speak – but in terms of ecclesiastical vocation and formation. Both Ambassador Ken Hackett and Miguel Diaz have given their life in service to the Church rather than to partisan politics: Diaz as a theologian, Hackett in Catholic Relief Services. That sets them out from the pack.

The rest were all partisan political appointees, and whether left or right does not matter. Glendon is a law professor; Rooney an investment banker; Nicholson was Republican Party Chairman; Boggs a democrat congresswoman; Flynn was mayor of Boston; Melady was a career diplomat; Shakespeare was president of CBS; and Wilson was a cattle ranching oil magnate.

US Embassy to Italy and San Marino

US Embassy to Italy and San Marino

This is not to say they were not good Catholics (those who were) or good Ambassadors. I am sure they were. Rather, it is simply that no president until Barack Obama had picked ‘church’ people for the post. People who were chosen specifically because of their devotion to the Catholic Church first, and country second, rather than the other way around.

So, while any change will ruffle feathers, of all the Ambassadors in the post, the most qualified to speak to the real situation of this move, as far as the Holy See and the Church are concerned, are precisely the two supporting the move: Hackett and Diaz.

Bottom line: fear not. The US and the Holy See are as engaged as they ever have been, and signs show the relationship is stronger than ever.  Moving to a new building next door to two other US Embassies will not change that.


The Pacific Northwest Presence in Rome

St. James Cathedral, Seattle

St. James Cathedral, Seattle

The last month has confirmed that there is a greater presence of the pacific northwest in Rome (Churchy Rome, that is) than there has been for a very long time.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Sartain of Seattle passed through Rome, mostly on business with the LCWR, it seems. Though there was no time on his busy schedule to meet with us all, it gave an opportunity to reflect on the presence of people from the Emerald City and environs here in the Eternal City. An almost overlapping visit from the Laughlin sisters of St. James Cathedral fame made for a more enjoyable Northwest night out.

We have a record number of students from the Archdiocese, two seminarians and two graduate students. Then, there are a couple of professionals at work around the Vatican.

Michael Dion is a second-year seminarian and from Sacred Heart Parish, Enumclaw. He is studying for a bachelor of sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Kyle Mangloña is another second-year seminarian from Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Tacoma. He is likewise studying for a bachelor of sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Derek Farmer is a US Navy veteran and former Seattle city hall employee who just finished his MA in Pastoral Studies at Seattle University and was accepted for the Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies. His Certificate program is equivalent to the first year of the license in sacred theology, at the Angelicum. He is from Christ our Hope Parish in Belltown, Seattle, and married to his wife Katy for just over a year.

Cindy Wooden is the senior correspondent of the Catholic News Service Rome Bureau, and she has been here about 20 years. Her previous employer? The Catholic Northwest Progress, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle. And she’s a Seattle U. grad whose roommate was a parishioner of mine at St. Brendan.

Fr. Steve Bossi, CSP, is the new vice-rector of Santa Susanna, the American parish in Rome, and a Seattle native and still has family in the area. He too is a Seattle U. alumnus.

Msgr. John Cihak from Portland, OR, is a Notre Dame grad, working for the Congregation for Bishops, and the only diocesan priest from the northwest anywhere in the curia, as far as we can tell.

Finally, A.J. Boyd (your humble scribe), a doctoral student in ecumenism at the Angelicum, adjunct theology professor, and graduate assistant at the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue. A native of North Bend, WA, and former lay ecclesial minister for the Archdiocese of Seattle, I also spent a year in a post-grad program at Seattle U, after studies at Notre Dame and CUA.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist, Rome

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist, Rome

Feeling more Catholic than the pope? I find your lack of faith disturbing

By now, most have read that last week’s “interview” between La Repubblica’s Eugenio Scalfari, 89, and Pope Francis, was really more of the former’s recollection of a friendly conversation between the two.

It was obvious from day one that this interview, and its translation, was not on the same par as that published by the Jesuit journals of the world less than two weeks before. That fact has just been underlined, and the gulf of quality widened, by recent revelations. Both remain important, illustrative of the Holy Father’s basic ecclesiological paradigm, his personality, and his vision for the mission of the Church, but not in the same degree. As you would expect.

Scalfari used neither a notepad or a recorder, and while I am sure that any one-on-one with the pope will be memorable enough that you are not likely to forget that much of it, even at such a venerable age, it seems like a journalistic mortal sin to publish conversation as if these are recorded quotes during a professional interview.

Given that, I do not find it surprising that a couple of the details get mixed up. Scalfari is not a theologian, in fact, not even a practicing Catholic. So, the fact that he misremembers whether Pope Francis had his mystical moment before or after accepting the office, or whether he or the translator captured all the nuance of the primacy of conscience  is neither surprising nor shocking.

The Vatican confirmed that the basic tone and tenor of the interview was accurate and trustworthy. The thoughts expressed are the pope’s thoughts, technical and translation glitches aside. It is a “reconstruction and not a transcript” and “should be considered faithful on the whole to the mind of the pope, but not necessarily in its particular words and the accuracy of its details.”

One merely needs to read the interview with a basic understanding of Christian teaching and knowledge of the fact that not only is the pope Catholic but that he is, in fact, a bishop of the Church, and there are no theological or doctrinal problems to be found. A little benefit of the doubt is sufficient, to say nothing of thinking with the Church here.

By far, then, the most disturbing news of the week is the vitriolic and unabashed criticism of the bishop of Rome from some voices on what is often called the far right – though there are many self-described conservative Catholics who find this reaction appalling. And well they should.

(Some other rebuttals to this hysteria, and conservative clarifications to calm the nerves, can be found on The Dish, The Deacon’s Bench, National Catholic Register,  and even the godfather of ‘far right’ Catholic bloggers, Fr. Z!)

–I suspect there would not have been so much confusion if we had not had such a recent long streak of obsessing with literal translations and verbatim fidelity of words themselves, rather than focusing on the message being conveyed by the words. But I digress —

To be clear, I have no problem with the criticism of any religious leader, including the bishop of Rome. In fact, a healthy Church, one committed to the principle on ongoing reform, is made evident by those that love the Church are the first willing to openly recommend improvements. A culture of fear and thought-control, wherein everyone simply has to toe the party line, is detrimental to the overall wellbeing of any institution, especially the Body of Christ.

But criticism demands responsibility. It is one thing to not like the color of the pope’s shoes as a matter of personal taste, and anyone can express such an opinion. It is something else to claim the pope is a heretic, a relativist, a modernist, or confused about the role of the bishop of Rome without some kind of theological legwork to back up your claim. And when the attack is made ad hominem, it just loses all respectability.

Since the moment he appeared on the balcony in March, I have heard complaints and an unceasing stream of vitriol from either the radical traditionalist set, or the plain old neo-con clericalist set.

Not all who respect tradition are traditionalists, and not all who claim the title traditionalist are  “radical” traditionalists. The former may have greeted this latest interview with a raised eyebrow or two, but then immediately began looking through the Italian for translation errors (and there were a few) or intuitively read the pope’s words with the docility of will and humility of intellect required of all faithful , and realized what was being said.

Likewise, not all who identify with the label conservative – whether politically, morally, socially, or theologically – fall into the particular subset of neo-conservative, and not all of these somehow substitute the dogmas of unrestrained capitalism for the Christian gospel. But there are certainly those who do, and they tend also to adhere precisely to these sins of clericalism, careerism, materialism and triumphalism that Pope Francis has been warning us about. No wonder they are upset.

I am happy to be in a Church with traditionalists and conservatives, innovators and liberals, even if (as a reform-minded, ecumenically devoted centrist), we do not agree on everything, because that is the nature of a universal Church. All I expect from all sides is that you think with the Church, you at least give your local bishop or that of Rome the benefit of the doubt, and when that is not sufficient, try harder to employ a hermeneutic of charity.

For my entire lifetime, we have had two popes who were considered conservative even by general Catholic standards, at least concerning matters ad intra. Pope Benedict bent over backwards to accommodate the traditionalist wing, like the Good Shepherd, giving disproportionate attention to a very small minority in the Church that had wandered far from the flock. He was the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, and tasked with making hard choices for the sake of unity; this is what he did.

Now we have a pope who nobody could seriously describe as liberal: He will not be changing Church doctrine on abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, or war anytime soon. Neither is the question of women in the presbyterate, nor gay marriage, suddenly on the fore of the Church’s agenda. Relieved or disappointed, you can take that to the bank.

Call him a reformer, a moderate, a centrist, creative orthodox or just plain Catholic: He will bring change, but only the change that the gospel demands and that which only hubris and fear have withheld. Some will find it too much too fast, others will find it too little too late.

He may not cater to the particular agenda of the parties that have been in ascendancy for an entire generation, if you want to think in those terms, but is instead fixated on the timeless Gospel of Jesus Christ, and willing to free the Church from self-imposed bondage where necessary, to promote that central message and mission. It is about time someone did.

pope francis thumbsup

NB to the liberal and progressive set: “This is the Church. If you don’t like it, leave!” is exactly the kind of thinking that such über-conservative dissidents have had for the last 35 years for everyone that did not agree with them. Now we come, perhaps, to the turn of the tide, and there is temptation in some quarters to respond in kind. Don’t. The Church needs them, and what they need is conversion and healing, which is unlikely to be found in the outer darkness. Treat them as you wish they had treated you over these last decades: with charity.

What a week! From Francis to Francis with Francis…

I was privileged to spend yesterday, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, in Assisi with Pope Francis. With him came the Council of Cardinals, or group of eight, which held their first meeting this week. It was an overcast, pleasant day, the predicted thunderstorms holding off until last night.

His entire itinerary is here, and text of speeches and addresses. There is also a good commentary by a friar i met last year in Assisi at a conference, Daniel Horan, at America Magazine.


The last papal event I attended in Assisi was the 25th anniversary of the first interreligious day of prayer for peace with Pope Benedict XVI, which was dubbed ”Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace.” Two cornerstone pieces of the original event were missing however – prayer, and the Sant’Egidio community who organize the annual prayers for peace in the spirit of Assisi. Subsequently, perhaps, attendance was surprisingly low.

Yesterday was a different story. The Eucharistic celebration in the lower piazza of San Francesco was witnessed not only by a full piazza there, but also in the upper piazza, all the side streets, and in the other major piazzas of Assisi (Santa Chiara, San Rufino, Piazza del Commune) where jumbotron screens were set up. It was an almost all-Italian gathering, and there is no question of the broad appeal of this reforming pontiff.

It came at the end of an amazing week in terms of Church news – especially with regard to Church reform. I commented already on some of them, but there has been so much, it has been hard to keep up. Thankfully, there are professionals to do that for us: John Allen summarizes this week in Vatican and Church news, in what he contends to be the biggest week outside of a conclave in his nearly 20 years of Vatican reporting.


The biggest news is probably the meeting this week of the Council of Cardinals, dubbed in some circles the G-8. They have discussed the ecclesiology of Vatican II, the reform of the Synod of Bishops into a more permanent exercise of synodality and collegiality, the reform of the Roman curia to such an extent as to require a new constitution emphasizing decentralization and service to the local churches, changes to the Secretariat of State that might remove it from its current role as über-dicastery, and serious questions on the role of the laity in the church, including the role of the laity inside the curia itself. Their second meeting is set for just two months from now. They seem to really be addressing the half-finished business of Vatican II, or at least getting started on it.

When my students asked me last week why no pope or bishop has ever talked about the Church in the way that Francis has, and why there’s never been so much energy in the church, I was reminded of my own experience as a university sophomore, in my own 200-level theology class (on Vatican II) asking a similar question, “why are we still waiting for the changes promised by the Council? How can 35 years have passed and we are still waiting [on things like decentralization, synodality and collegiality, the role of the laity, the full restoration of the diaconate, overcoming clericalism, etc]?” – I had no idea 15 years later I would be the one trying to answer these questions, and under what different circumstances!

Two  highlights of John Allen’s highlights, aside from the meeting of the Council of Cardinals, worth particular notice:

Allen reports that

“Von Freyberg told me recently it’s his ambition to put gossipy newspaper reports out of business by making it so easy to get information directly from him that journalists don’t have to rely on whispers in Roman bars.”

If that is not argument enough for getting more lay people in positions of responsibility of the Roman Curia, i do not know what is. When was the last time you heard any cleric tackle communication and transparency issues so directly? Well, before this one

He really should be a deacon!

Ernst Von Fryberg, cleaning up the Vatican Bank. He really should be a deacon!

The second point is less about this week in particular, but about Allen’s comments about his own book on religious persecution around the world, after talking about the killing of about 500 Christians in India during 2008 riots:

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s what a real “war on religion” looks like. One aim of the book is to reframe the conversation over religious freedom among Western Christians so we don’t allow our metaphorical battles at home to obscure the literal, and often lethal, war on Christians being waged in other parts of the world.

In the view from Rome, there was a bit of discomfiture last year with the whole tone and tenor of the ‘fortnight for freedom’ in the U.S., because it seemed to ignore the real problems of religious freedom. Officially, of course, the Vatican backs its bishops, but, unofficially (and remember this was still under Pope Benedict) there seemed to be a current of thought around the Vatican and in Rome that there was a little too much partisan politicking, and not enough focus on the fact that there are more Christian martyrs around the world today than at any point in history. It is hard to be quite so concerned about contraceptive funding when there are Christians dying at the hands of radical elements in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and secular Atheism – especially when it is part of a universal health care plan that the Church supports in principle, if not in every detail.

This is, of course, not to say to ignore the small problems before they become big ones, but to keep everything in perspective. That is something we Americans have a hard enough time doing when it comes to global events, but for which membership in a Church so universally oriented that it is called Catholic ought to be a corrective.



For the full run-down of the week, read Allen’s article here.

In brief, what happened this week:

  • Monday:
    • Canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II set for April 27
    • Discussion of regional tribunals to adjudicate clerical sex abuse cases
    • G-8 formal established as a permanent Council of Cardinals
  • Tuesday:
    • A “stunning Q&A with the pope” published in La Repubblica
    • The Vatican Bank (IOR) released its first-ever annual report and its lay president demonstrates the kind of transparency attitude needed all over the Church
    • The Vatican Bank announced the closure of 900 accounts for dubious activity
    • The Council of Cardinals began its first meeting, as mentioned above
  • Thursday
  • Friday
    • Feast of Francis of Assisi . Francis took aim at the ‘right’ by calling on the Church to “strip itself of the cancer of worldliness”, and took aim at the ‘left’ by asserting that the peace of Francis is not a ‘kind of pantheistic harmony with the forces of the cosmos’, but a Christ-centered peace.

Dinner with Ambassador Ken Hackett


Ambassador Ken Hackett with his wife, Joan

This talk lately reminds me i forgot to post about my first meeting with Ambassador Ken Hackett, back in early October:

On Thursday night [Oct.3], my past and present Rome worlds met one another when the entire Rome program of the Catholic University of America and Loyola University Maryland descended upon the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas to welcome U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett and his wife, Joan, on their twelfth day in Rome.

His predecessor, Prof. Miguel Diaz, was a theologian serving as the link between the U.S. government and the theologian-pope Ratzinger. Now we have the recently retired head of caritas in the U.S. representing the government to the very service-oriented successor of Peter.

Whatever else one can say about President Obama, his picks for US Ambassador to the Holy See have been more spot-on as genuinely Catholic picks than any president in our history – judged on pastoral and theological, rather than political, qualifications. If that were the only criterion (it is not, to be sure) he would be the most Catholic president we have ever had. Reflect on that for a moment…!

If I were to sum up the Ambassador’s approach, it is that he intends to have fun the next three years. Not, “fun”, as in he’s going to spend his entire assignment on a yacht in the Mediterranean or something.  But, fun, as in, here is someone who has lived the “poor church for the poor” after 40 years in Catholic Relief Services, and is coming to Rome just as we have a bishop imbued deeply in the spirit of the poverello of Assisi.


An interesting historical note: Ambassador Hackett is recipient of the 2012 Laetare Medal, the same honor which the shortest-serving US Ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor, refused in 2009 so that she would not have to share the platform with President Obama, who was receiving an honorary doctorate that year – as have all U.S. presidents since Eisenhower. Brutta figura or principled stand? A bit of each, I think.

Church Reform Wishlist: The College of Cardinals

The College of Cardinals

[Alternative to many of these ideas, of course, is that the college could be disbanded entirely, and certain offices designated electors ex officio. There is a certain appeal in this, but perhaps it is not prudent at this time.]

  • Zero tolerance for cardinals found to be implicated in the cover up of sex abuse cases. They should be removed from the college of cardinals, not just from ministry.
  • Patriarchs and major archbishops should not be created cardinal, which is proper to the Latin Church (indeed, to the Roman clergy!), though they should be included in conclave, ex officio.
  • The heads of a number of the largest religious orders, male and female, as well as the largest ecclesial lay movements should be either made cardinals, or at least included in the conclave, ex officio.
  • The presidents of the bishops’ conferences could be made cardinals, ex officio.
  • Cardinals should not be ordained bishops unless they are going to serve as bishops (diocesan ordinaries).
  • Cardinal-deacons should not be “promoted” to cardinal-presbyters after 10 years, but retain the dignity of their diaconal office – which ought to be considered equal to that of the cardinal-presbyters.
  • Cardinal-deacons should  be deacons, chosen from the ranks of deacons, who serve in diaconal posts such as the dicasteries of the Roman curia, the diplomatic corps, etc.
  • As a sign of gratitude for their leadership in the last half-century, all the surviving Council Fathers (about 19 in number*) should be named cardinal. The only exception being if they have been found complicit in the sex abuse crisis, or left communion with the church. [*63 at the time of original publication]
  • Lay men or women, whether theologians, religious, or lay ecclesial ministers, who are appointed to top offices in the curia could be made cardinals. Preferably after being ordained to the diaconate.
  • Women cardinals? If women deacons, or deaconesses, then yes. Maybe better not to make it about being cardinal, but by virtue of the office being given the same rights and responsibilities, same access, and same dignity – and taken as seriously.
  • Lay cardinals? The pope could do it, though with the historical connection of the cardinals to the clergy of Rome, perhaps that would take a more monumental shift – like eliminating the college, or eliminating the canonical distinction between cleric and lay states (NOT eliminating the ministries, holy orders, priesthood, etc!)


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Church Reform Wishlist: The Roman Curia

The Roman Curia:

  • Get the most qualified people. This means, at least:
    • Some kind of open hiring process that allows anyone qualified to be considered. The Anglicans even advertise their top openings on their website. We could have something similar. Why not?
    • A doctorate and experience in the particular field is a must. No more non-liturgists running liturgy, diplomats running theology, etc.
  • If anything, the ordinary minister of any curia should be a deacon.
    • If a presbyter is not theologically or canonically required for a position, it should not normally be given to a presbyter.
    • Lay ecclesial ministers, theologians, other lay persons, religious, and some priests or bishops may also be called upon, but they should ordinarily then be ordained to the diaconate (if appropriate).
    • This could be a good example of a place where the return of the deaconess, or of women in the diaconate, would be appropriate.
  • The diplomatic corps should be reformed
    • The same considerations as for the curia, though perhaps a doctorate is not necessary.
    • The ordinary ministers of the diplomatic corps should be deacons
    • The ecclesiastical academy should be open to all qualified, fully initiated Catholics
    • Candidates should not be drawn from seminary, but should either be a separate track or have proven field experience first
    • The nuncio should not be a bishop, but a deacon (perhaps an archdeacon, or protodeacon), unless they have already been ordained a bishop before being called to diplomatic service.
  • Communication – one apparatus to rule them all. There are what, seven different offices for communication in the Vatican? Things have improved a little, but this really needs to be coordinated. Also, people, even cardinals, whose competence is in a specific area should not be publicly speaking on the record about other areas (e.g., the President of the PCPCU should not be talking about liturgical changes, and the Prefect of the CDW should not be making ecumenical judgments.)
  • The councils and congregations should be made up of committees of the synod – or from the episcopal conferences. The staff should really be staff to these committees, not the driving force.
  • All dicasteries are equal, according to Pastor Bonus, but some dicasteries appear more equal than others. Change that. The Council for Christian Unity should be able to promulgate policy with the same authority as the Congregation for the Doctrine fo the Faith
  • Ecumenical review of doctrinal, liturgical, and canonical decisions – the PCPCU should be involved in the vetting process of decisions made by the CDF, CDW, etc. to help formulate the best policy that is both orthodox and ecumenically helpful. The reverse is already true and should continue.
  • The Secretariat of State should focus on diplomacy, not act as moderator of the curia or, generally, mediator on local ecclesiastical issues. Let there be a separate office to organize the work of the curia.
  • Most theologians are laity, true? Certainly in the western world, but I think now also universally. This should be reflected in the staff of the dicasteries, the pontifical academies, and in the pontifical universities. Though, in the case of the curia, they could be ordained to the diaconate once selected for office.
  • The support staff in many offices is quasi-hereditary, and almost exclusively Italian. If only there were a bunch of universities nearby with graduate students from all over the world looking for internships, assistantships, and part time work, we could tap into some of the greatest young talent the church has to offer… oh well…

APTOPIX Vatican Pope Church Abuse

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Church Reform Wishlist: Precedence and Papal Honors

Of Precedence and Papal Honors (Or, “Monsignors, medals, and more!”)

Full disclosure: i helped get some acquaintances a papal knightood for their commendable service to the Church, i know some others. I know several monsignori, most quite deserving of recognition. If we have these things, we should use them, but first ask whether we should have them at all.

  • The presbyterate and diaconate are equal in ‘rank and dignity’. We really should not even be talking about ‘rank’ with regard to the life of the Church anyway. Are not all equal in Christ?
  • I am not sure we should, but as long as we do  still care about an order of  precedence, patriarchs precede cardinals, and major archbishops ought to be considered equal to cardinal-bishops. .
  • On one hand I think we should eliminate the vestiges of the renaissance court – the three grades of monsignori, the five grades of papal knights, the two medals, and perhaps even the college of cardinals, honorary canons, etc.
  • On the other hand, I believe that if we do have these things – and there are reasons to have the means of recognizing good and faithful service to the church – they ought to be exercised more equitably and transparently, to whit:
    • Clear qualifications or requirements for each honor should be widely available, clearly understandable, and published on the Vatican website.
    • There should be universal consistency, too. A parish organist of fifty years and a Swiss Guard of two can both receive the Benemerenti medal. Likewise some dioceses do not have monsignori at all, some award it after a set number of years of service, and if you work in the curia, it was, until quite recently, all but guaranteed after five years (one term) of service.
    • Nominations should have an open process that allows at least initial proposals to come from all corners of the Church. There are many deserving people who will never be recognized simply because nobody knows how to get it done.
    • Generous donors should either not be so awarded, or only granted the lowest category of  particular order. The higher levels reserved for those who have given of their time and talent.
    • We should make broader use of the awards as appropriate for ecumenical, interreligious, and even non-believing leaders who have contributed in someway to the Church and to the world.
      • e.g., the diplomats accredited to the Holy See are frequently made Knights of the Order of Pope Pius IX. Maybe it would be appropriate to make the outgoing Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See an honorary canon of St. Peter’s, or of St. Paul’s without the Walls? Or at least a Pian Knight, too!
    • If the papal knighthoods are for the laity, and the monsignori for the clergy, then deacons should be able to be awarded with all the levels of monsignor. Alternatively, restrict the highest (protonotary apostolic) to the diaconate (which is the historic origin of this role anyway), the middle (honorary prelate) to the presbyterate, and the lowest (chaplain of his holiness) to lay ecclesial ministers, or to both presbyters and deacons.
    • Publish a report each year, and a sum total of all awards given, which includes clarification of who was awarded, for what reason, and where they are. I would be happy to help with the research!
    • Gentlemen of His Holiness are, basically, finely dressed ushers. Is it really an honorific? Why not just have the ushers do this job? If it is an honorific, let it become more systematic like the rest.

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Church Reform Wishlist: Catholic Education and Pastoral Formation


  • All candidates for pastoral ministry, whether presbyterate, diaconate, or lay ecclesial ministry, are required to take an introductory course in ecumenism, and in interreligious dialogue. At last count, only about 1/3 of seminaries were in compliance. Enforce this.
  • No minor seminaries!
  • Seminarians should not be isolated in their formation, but prepare for a life of ministry with deacons and lay ecclesial ministers alongside candidates for the diaconate and lay ecclesial ministry
  • There should be an accreditation system for pontifical universities that utilizes Catholic higher education leaders from around the world and from outside the pontifical/ecclesiastical system
  • The clericalism contained in the Congregation for Education’s governing documents on the distinction between “theology” (only for priests) and “religious studies” (for religious and laity) should be rooted out completely.
  • A commitment to consultation and collaboration, and an understanding of the difference, should be inculcated in all called to pastoral ministry.
  • Formation for ministry in the U.S. means, generally, a BA in philosophy and theology or a BA in something else with some prerequisite work, and then a Master of Divinity or similar. In Rome, the degree for ordination is a Baccalaureate in THeology, after a partial degree in Philosophy. What about psychology, leadership, non-profit administration, etc? Why a seven year program in one system, and a five year program in another?
  • The Roman pontifical system needs a desperate overhaul. It needs to accept that there have been lay students earning theology degrees for a century and adapt accordingly. There is so much overlap and repetition between the universities and institutes, a lack of funding, a surplus faculty and a deficiency of staff, and a tendency to be isolated from the broader theological and academic world. Do there really need to be seven faculties of canon law, and two dozen faculties of theology? All the universities, athenae, and institutes combined probably only have 10,000 students in residence. Perhaps it is time to have an actual system in place here, to which all the participating universities belong. This would take an extensive blog in itself….

Russell Berrie Fellows with Angelica Berrie, Rome Islamic Leadership and Angelicum staff

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