Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Castle News

While the world watches the actions, symbolic and substantive, of Pope Francis, life goes on at home.  A week ago the New Castle News, our local daily, published the following column on its editorial page.  It was a syndicated column from Scripps Howard News Service, by Dan Thomasson.

The rock of St. Peter's has some fissures in it, as we are reminded almost daily by the Catholic Church's sexual and financial scandals.

In the interest of transparency  I must confess I am not a Catholic.  I am a lifelong Methodist who has stayed away from from writing on the issues of another person's religion.  If someone wants to maintain his or her beliefs in a church whose edicts have led to wholesale criminal and moral misbehavior, that is his or her choice.  

I will say that I am tired of being bombarded by the onslaught of attention given to Catholic news, while  Christian news outside the Roman brand is practically ignored.

A significant amount of the attention comes from pedophilia in the priesthood, generating sensational coverage that other denominations wouldn't want.  But when you don't make news, maybe it's because you have done all those bad things.

Of course, now and then there are instances where aberrant activities by some offshoot Protestant fundamentalist sect or official reaches proportions that merit journalistic notice -- a 20-second spot on television or an inside blurb in the local paper.  But that's generally when a snake handler gets bitten or a TV evangelist runs afoul of the law or a spouse.

I suppose that it would be correct here to note that Protestantism was revived news wise by the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, a Mormon -- and not always flatteringly.  But mainly, Protestant activities are just too dull to report.

Then there are the movie stars like Tom Cruise who have put their bankrolls and prestige behind such institutions as Scientology, whatever that is.  I'm not certain it qualifies as a church in the usual sense of the word; it's more like a theology of Buck Rogers space travel.

Certainly nothing matches the controversy over Catholic clergy whose indefensible activities, if not sanctioned, were tolerated and hidden by the church's hierarchy all the way to the Vatican.

Just when it seemed the pope's reinforcement of dogma that defies human nature -- on celibacy and contraception, for example -- threatened revolution in some church quarters, he up and quit for "health reasons."

The resignation did come after it was revealed that the former archbishop of Los Angeles, the largest Catholic diocese in America, had ignored or covered p a horrific number of morally and criminally reprehensible acts by priests against young parishioners.  Even then, Cardinal Roger Mahoney [sic] was asked by the Vatican to attend the conclave from which a new pope  will be chosen.

So when the smoke rises from the basilica announcing the selection of a new pontiff, let's hope that the church can being to repair the fissures -- and that my colleagues can give it a rest.

Well.  As Forrest Gump said, "Stupid is as stupid does."

The number of inaccuracies in this "thumbsucker" is only exceeded by the missed targets in the blame game.  I called the New Castle News on Monday, and talked with a nice editor.  I said that I thought that the article was blatant anti-Catholicism, and wanted to reply.  He said, you can write a letter to the editor.  I replied, no, I wanted a column.  He said he had to ask the head editor.

An hour later, I got my column.  500 words.  So this appeared in Thursday's paper, on the editorial page, providentially on the same day when the election of Pope Francis was the lead story on the front page, with an above the fold photo of him.

There are days when I think the saying of Jesus which his followers carry out the most is, "Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing" (Matthew 6:3).

The Catholic Church is especially skilled at hiding its good news.

How often have you heard that one out of every six patient admissions in the U.S. is into a Catholic hospital?  Or that the network of Catholic Charities across our nation has more than 2,000 agencies, serving more than nine million unduplicated persons annually?  Or that the Catholic Church educates more than two million students in grade schools and highs schools, with no tax dollars?

Our scandals and sins have been well covered by the media, for all the world to see.  In response, since 2002, the U.S. Catholic community has become a world leader in educating clergy, paid staff and volunteers in preventing sexual abuse of children.

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh alone, more than 30,000 people who serve in our parishes, schools and ministries have attended the three-hour workshop "Protecting  God's Children" and received state and FBI clearances.  Every American diocese and eparchy is audited annually by an outside firm to keep us honest.  "Zero tolerance" is the standard for all church workers and volunteers.

This past week the world's media descended on Rome and the Vatican to observe the conclave of cardinals which will  elect the new pope.  The media know a good story when they see one. We are a worldwide communion of 1.2 billion souls, with every language and race represented.

The new pope will be expected to carry on the centuries-long tradition of his predecessors in upholding the human rights, the God-given dignity, and the religious freedom of every human person.

Pope John Paul II was a leading figure in the fall of the Iron Curtain and the demise of the Soviet Union.  Pope Benedict XVI proposed a world-wide fiscal body to ensure that companies protect the rights of workers and given them a living, family wage.  Both called for careful environmental stewardship of this planet called Earth, and peaceful collaborative relations with other Christians, the Jewish community, and all faiths.

But national or global numbers are not nearly as touching as the ordinary faith-filled activities of the four New Castle parishes my brother priests and I serve.  Eucharistic ministers bring Holy Communion and smiles to elderly, home bound parishioners. Two food pantries, at St. Vitus and St. Joseph the Worker parishes, supplement the meals of 600 families each month.

We console the grieving, rejoice with brides and grooms who make lifelong commitments in marriage, and hold squirming babies after their baptisms.  Our children hear the good news of Jesus in Sunday school sessions and in St. Vitus school, and see it lived out day-by-day by their caring parents and grandparents.

I'd love less media attention on the religious scandals, and more on the everyday saints n our Lawrence County neighborhoods.  Maybe we Catholic can stop hiding our love under bushel baskets.

As you can see, I decided not to bring attention to Thomasson's piece, nor to rebut his accusations and mistakes.  I figured a positive picture would do more good.  At the very least, hearing from parishioners the past two days, I made Catholics feel better about their religion.

Habamus papam Franciscum

"We have a pope, Francis!"

What wonderful words heard by the world from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday, March 13.  In only five ballots, the 115 cardinal electors were able to exceed (reportedly over 90 votes) the 77 votes needed for the election of a new pope.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76 year old archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the 266th successor of St. Peter the Apostle.  His election brings many firsts to the papacy:  first pope from the Southern Hemisphere, first member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), first Argentine, first from the Americas, first religious order priest in over a thousand years, first non-European in over 1,200 years, first to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi for his papal name.


I believe that not only the Roman Catholic Church will be blessed by the ministry of Pope Francis, but also the Christian church, and the entire world.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fasting for Feasting

While we are waiting for the cardinals to elect the 266th Bishop of Rome, I thought this Lenten message was worthwhile.  I found it in the bulletin of Holy Redeemer Parish, Kissimmee, Florida.  

Lent can be more than a time of fasting; it can be a season of feasting.  We can use Lent to fast from certain things and to feast on others.  Lent is a season in which we can:

Fast from judging others;  feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences;  feast on the unity of life.
Fast from thoughts of illness;  feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute;  feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent;  feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger;  feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism;  feast on optimism.
Fast from worry;  feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining;  feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives;  feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressure;  feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from bitterness;  feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern;  feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety;  feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragements;  feast on hope.
Fast from idle gossip;  feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm;  feast on prayer that strengthens.
Fast from apparent darkness;  feast on the reality of light.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Pope Resigns, X (The Prediction)

Predictions are useless, yet fun.  As one cardinal said on Sunday, it is the cardinals who vote in the conclave, not the media (or us bloggers).

Yet why go to all this effort, without making myself look foolish.

The basics:  Like the rest of the 1,200,000,000 Catholics worldwide, I have absolutely no inside information on which candidates are "gaining traction" and which have lost attention, over these days of the General Congregations.  I've looked over the "Papabili of the Day" by John Allen ( ), and other media sources to get at least a passing familiarity with the bios of cardinals who have attracted media attention.  I've not placed a bet on my candidates.  These are nothing more than slightly informed guesses.

My bottom line:  It is my hope and prayer that the cardinals look beyond Italy and Europe for the 266th Bishop of Rome.  In particular, I hope for a brown face or a black face to appear at the window after the white smoke.  We are a world-wide church (we don't call ourselves catholic for nothing) and it's about time that the leadership of the church make the jump to someone from where the church is growing.

The three candidates I wish would become pope:

Peter Turkson, the 64 year old Ghanaian who is the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Diarmuid Martin, the 67 year old archbishop (not a cardinal) of Dublin.

Sean O'Malley, the 68 year old archbishop of Boston.

The three candidates I think are the most likely to be elected pope in 2013:

Peter Erdo, the 60 year old archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest.

Christoph Schonborn, the 68 year old archbishop of Vienna.

Marc Ouellet, the 68 year old Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. from Quebec, Canada.

Length of conclave:  It took a reputed eight rounds of voting to elect Karol Wojtyla in the second election of 1978.  I believe that it will take at least that long for the election of 2013.  This would bring white smoke on Thursday, March 14.  

That said, if we do not see white smoke on Wednesday or Thursday, I believe all bets are off, and my hope for a brown face or black face from Asia, Africa, Central America or South America decidedly goes up.

Our prayer:  May the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church, and the world be the winner with a healthy, holy, and happy pope.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Pope Resigns, IX (Photographs)

As we await the decision of the College of Cardinals to set a date for the coming conclave, there have been some cute photographs which struck me.

The paparazzi have found a new subject, the Roman Pontiff emeritus.  Accompanied by his secretary, "Gorgeous George" Archbishop Ganswain, walking at Castel Gandolfo.

Don't you just love the white papal ball hat!  

Then there are these photos from a (now banned by the Vatican) press conference held by the USCCB at the North American College in Rome.

From the left, Sean Cardinal O'Malley of Boston, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and Francis Cardinal George of Chicago.

That's Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the press officer for the USCCB, moderating the press conference.  

Don't you love the contrast between the humble Franciscan (is there any other kind?) with his ratty grey sweater over brown robe, and the distinguished clerics in their sharp black suits with spit-shined shoes.  If you look closely you can see Cardinal Sean's sandals, grey athletic socks, and, I think, a hole near his pinky toe.  Not to mention the beard.

And then there's this, from St. Louis Catholic Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia.  (Courtesy of Fr. Z's blog, .  For more photos, go to www.stlouisschoolorg .) 

The school principal went all out in engaging the students in a mock conclave.

WHERE did they get those red birettas?  Seminarians all over the world are drooling over them.

And the Swiss Guard!  St. Louis School has a world-class set designer and seamstress.

All the boys -- er, Cardinals -- are matched to real Cardinal electors.  These two debating are Raymond Cardinal Burke of the Apostolic Signatura and Luis Cardinal Tagle of Manilla.

Why did he bring his Code of Canon Law book to the conclave?

Once the pope is elected, all Cardinals pledge their obedience and respect.

What a blessing!

I'm going to a "conclave party" this Sunday.  I wonder if our priest-host, Father Mike, will provide us with similar outfits?

A Pope Resigns, VIII (Preparing to Vote)

How do you prepare to vote for the next pope?

There are 50 Cardinals now in Rome who have some definite ideas about that, because they did vote in the 2005 conclave which made Joseph Ratzinger the 265th bishop of Rome.   In an interview with The New York Times just after Pope Benedict's announcement of his resignation, one of those 2005 electors, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago said, "People are reluctant to speak about themselves.  So you go to a friend and say, Can you tell me about cardinal so-and-so?  The questions are usually about the qualities you want to see in a pope.  Is he a man of prayer, is he deeply rooted in the apostolic faith, can he govern, is he deeply concerned about the poor?  It matters far less where he happens to be living or where he's from."

That's an ok start.

Certainly you pray.  You ask for prayers of your diocese, your brothers in the episcopate, and of the whole church.  

And you ask yourself lots of questions.

Two sets of questions are floating among all the discussions, formally in the General Congregations now happening in the daytime, and informally among the Cardinals at the coffee bars and in the restaurants after hours.

The first can be posed negatively (What is wrong with the church today and how might the next pope address these needs?) or positively (Where do I think the next pope should take the church?).  In other words, you need a vision of the church.  Before you can move to the second set of questions, regarding the qualities of leadership, you have to have in your mind a coherent perspective on what the church can, and should with the right pope, look like.  

For example, if you are of the opinion that the Roman Curia is (are?) nothing short of the Augean stables, and incompetent to boot, and that until the interior administration of the Roman Catholic Church is cleaned out and set right you can't really do evangelization, you have one vision of the church.  If, however, you are of the opinion that the most pressing need for the church is another charismatic evangelist to roam the world with his message to inspire and inflame,  you have a different vision of the church.   

Which moves to the second set of questions.  What are the skill-sets, the qualities, the attitudes you want in the next pope?  Here you drill down into several categories:

  • Does he know how to speak Italian?  English?  Does he know one or two more of the major European languages?  Any other languages?
  • Is he younger that Papa Ratzinger at his election (78) and older than Papa Wojtyla (58) at his election?  Does he appear to have the health, energy and stamina for the demanding job?  What is his work ethic?
  • Is he a genuine man of prayer?
  • Is he smart enough for the job?  Does he understand the major intellectual currents in the church and in the world?
  • Is is clean?  (Which is to say, what has he done and said about the clerical sexual abuse scandal of the past two decades?  Is he tainted by complicity in corruption or abuse of political power?)  Are there any personal skeletons in his closet?
  • Would he command the respect of the Roman Curia?  the College of Cardinals? the worldwide episcopate?  the leaders of nations?  the judgment of history?
  • Does he have enough administrative skill to know how to govern?
  • Does he have the skills of a teacher and preacher to proclaim the Word of God for today and hold fast to the deposit of faith?
  • Does he, as Cardinal George mentioned, truly care for the poor and can apply the social teachings of the past century to a new century?
  • Is he willing to deal with the world's media?  
  • How would he react to crisis?
  • What are his perspectives and attitudes in regard to ecumenism?  the Jewish faith?  Islam?  other world religions?  secularism and atheism?
  • Does he have enough pastoral experience (here defined as having been an actual, hands-on diocesan bishop)?  Does he have any experience of having studied or worked in Rome? 

People who are thinking of purchasing an automobile can easily go online to "build their dream car."  Cardinals today in Rome are building their dream pope--and then testing the ideal against the reality of 115 fallible, limited, talented men.