Saturday, January 10, 2015


“What are cardinals in the Catholic Church?” is a question I am often asked, especially when the Pope gets ready to name new ones.  So here goes a modified answer to the way I used to reply…
Cardinals are simply bishops or archbishops who have the additional responsibility of gathering to elect a new pope.  No cardinal at the age of 80 or above is qualified to enter the conclave [the gathering of cardinals in the Sistine Chapel for the election] and vote.

Who becomes a “cardinal”?  Historically, they were the bishops, priests and deacons most closely associated with the major churches in Rome [they were, in effect, a combination of local clergy, consultors, and vicars for the Bishop of Rome].  Even today, every cardinal is given charge of a church in Rome [Cardinal Newman’s church was San Giorgio in Velabro; Cardinal Dolan’s is Ss John and Paul, and so on].

More recently, cardinals have been so named if they are bishops of historically important, or very large, or very wealthy/influential dioceses.  Examples of the former would include Milan, Madrid, Vienna, or Paris.  Examples of the latter, in our country, would be New York, Philadelphia, Boston, or Chicago.

This practice has actually tipped the scales in a papal election [conclave] in an interesting way:  Italy of course always has led the percentage of cardinals, but the United States was #2.

Pope Francis is changing all this.

His newest nominations are representatives from the “ends of the earth” literally, and they reflect two very important realities.  The first is that the Holy Father is dedicated to making this crucial body of clerics truly international—representing the catholicity of the Catholic Church, especially in areas that are historically poor and suffering [and forgotten].  The second is that his selections are reflecting the new demographics of the Church:  its primary existence is in the Southern, not the Northern, Hemisphere. 
So now the best description of what it takes to be a cardinal is the place he can offer as a representative of a fully world-wide Church:  ALL voices need to be heard.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Just to let people know, the marquee in front of the building housing "St Anthony Mary Claret" refers to itself as a "Roman Catholic Chapel."  But the website of the Society of St Pius X makes it clear this chapel is under their aegis.  So there is a misnomer here:  they can not be both "Roman Catholic" and part of the SSPX.  One or the other is wrong.  My hunch, sadly, is that this is a disingenuous attempt to appeal to liturgically disaffected conservative Catholics who think that by coming here they are in fact still part of the Church.  This is very sad, all around...

Monday, December 29, 2014


I have discovered a new church in Miramar Beach-- St Anthony Mary Claret, just a few blocks down from the condo where I am staying.
It is housed in a building which was (as I guess) an office building, though the only name in any of the office complexes was that of the owner of the building.  Perhaps she is renting it out; perhaps she sold it.
This church evidently subsists on one celebration of the Eucharist per month:  that of the "traditional Latin Mass."  I deduce this both from the marquee in front of the building and from the website.  
Of course, I am jumping to conclusions here, but as a regular (if infrequent) visitor to this area, I question this chapel's existence.  After all, less than a 5 minute walk from there is Resurrection Catholic Church, which has been a mainstay of the area for decades.  Why was it necessary to establish a 2nd building when Pope Benedict's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum allows for the celebration of this older rite on a basis dictated only by the desire of the faithful?  Establishing a separate "chapel" smacks of schism, at least to me.  And this is unfortunate.
But it is true.
For this is indeed NOT under the aegis of the Catholic bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, and it is NOT a "Catholic" chapel in any full sense of the term.  It is part of the schismatic "Society of St Pius X,"  excommunicated by Pope John Paul II, and who refused to be reconciled even by the great overtures toward them by Pope Benedict XVI.
It is very sad.  But people who crave the "Latin Mass" should know that this is not a Catholic service in any full sense of that term.  This is because the "traditional Latin Mass," even though trumpeted as a major issue, is NOT the real issue for the Society of St Pius X--Vatican II (pretty well in toto) is.  This especially means their rejection of documents like those on ecumenism, on relations with the Jews, on religious liberty, and on encounter with the modern world.  It is why the concession of Pope Benedict to allow for the celebration of the "Tridentine Mass" went nowhere with them.  It was only the pseudo-issue for them.  People who support them so they can enjoy the Latin Mass of their childhood are supporting (and rejecting) much more than they think...
Stanley Kubrick's last (I think) film was titled "Eyes Wide Shut."  We cannot afford that luxury, within the Church or in our dealings with those outside the Church.

Friday, November 7, 2014


There is a minority of cardinals who are terribly upset by Pope Francis.  Some (for example, Cardinal Burke) have been relatively public in their criticism (though he is trying to back off from some of its implications); others are more, shall we say, covert.  Their great fear is that without the veneer of unformity, "common people" will become "confused."

I take this fear, on one level, deadly seriously.  It is true that there was much confusion after Vatican II, chiefly (in my view) because bishops and pastors chose to introduce the reforms that most touched people's regular lives (= liturgy) with resentment and virtually no preparation.  So the changes themselves were less an issue than their implementation.  Can the same kind of fear be justified today as a result of the Synod on the family?

First of all, we need to be clear:  an authentic "synod" requires free exchange of views.  Otherwise, it is a thinly-veiled rubber stamp for pre-existing conclusions (this latter is exactly what many cardinals in "power" in the pre-Vatican II days were hoping for that council).  When complaints were made to Pope John that bishops arguing and disagreeing was "improper," his reply was interesting:  "Speak up!  I didn't call you hear to sing together like monks in a choir."  Can you not hear the spirit of Pope Francis also in this comment?

He also insisted that he wanted the bishops to "speak their mind"--the last thing he wanted, he said, was for bishops to go home later and tell others, "I wanted to say 'X' or 'Y,' but I was afraid to because I didn't think it would be acceptable."  If bishops (successors of the Apostles in their own right, NOT simple "emmisaries" of the Vatican) cannot speak forthrightly in such an assemply, who can?

There are no conclusions that have come (nor could come) from the Synod until at least 2016.  Pope Francis is not obligated to accept every comment made by every bishop, but he has committed himself to listening to every honest expression of their reasoned points of view.   I have posted on Facebook what I take to be a pertinent analogy between those times and ours.  Please see them, and agree or disagree as you like.  But after all, do we believe (or not) that finally the Holy Spirit is really in charge?  Pope John surely thought so; it's why he was virtually 100% non-interventionist at the Council.  Pope Francis likewise wanted bishops freedom to speak from their hearts.  His message was really simple:  speak freely, and listen sympathetically.

We can do this, too.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Please bear with me and read this extended quote from John W O'Malley's A History of the Popes:

By 1968 five years had passed since John XXIII established the [secret] commission on birth control.  The very fact of the commission's existence indicated a reconsideration of Pius XI's prohibition in [his encyclical] Casti Cunubii, and the passing of years without a definitive statement on the matter from the Holy See seemed to suggest that a change was in the wind.  For most Catholics, including probably a majority of bishops, the silence indicated consent.  On July 25, 1968, however, [Pope] Paul [VI] issued Humanae Vitae, his most famous and controversial encyclical, in which he renewed the prohibition.
...The encyclical, more often criticized than studied, is a rich meditation on married love.  What the world seized upon, however, was the reiteration of Pius XI's strictures [against artificial contraceptives].  The reaction was fierce.

I write this because there are many, many comments about what was discussed in the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  By turns the report of the conversations has been either praised or vilified--even though it is not only a preliminary presentation of the discussions, but also (even in any "final form") simply a prelude to the actual synodal Round 2, not to be held until October of 2015.

In other words, to reckon that change is "in the wind" (either rejoicing in or lamenting the possibility) is utterly premature.  Let the other shoe fall first, and that won't happen until some time after the October 2015 Synod, in fact.  Hopes and fears need not be very high at this point...

I will make one final observation about the Synod, Round 1:  the negative comments of bishops like Raymond Burke and Charles Chaput are simply to be expected.  They are playing Alfredo Ottaviani and Marcel Lefebvre to Pope Francis' St John XXIII and Bl Paul VI. 

It's all OK:  life goes on, and the Holy Spirit (thankfully) is ultimately in charge.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Having just received word from the government of Turkey of an official invitation to visit, Pope Francis is set to make a pilgrimage to the ancient city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  The timing of this visit is wonderful:  it will fall across the marking of the patronal feast of the Orthodox Church, that of St Andrew, on 30 November. 

For years now delegations have been sent back and forth to commemorate this feast and that of Ss Peter & Paul, the Latin Church's equivalent.  This time, Pope Francis himself will lead that delegation.

It is a beautiful counterpoint to the meeting of these two great figures in the Holy Land, marking the 50th anniversary of the first such encounter, between (Blessed) Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, with the follow-up presence of Bartholomew at the prayer-service for peace in the Vatican Gardens, attended by Presidents Peres and Abbas.

At the end of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Pope Francis held a consistory of cardinals in which he addressed the crisis of anti-Christian persecution in the Middle East.  It strikes me that with the warm friendship between Francis and Bartholomew, with the real possibility of openness in dialogue and even in theological reflection that ecumenical teams are producing, and with the overwhelming needs of Christians especially in Iraq and Syria, there is an opportunity truly golden to begin to achieve unity of the Churches of Greek and Oriental Orthodoxy with the Church of Rome--to stand together in the face of this persecution.  When we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, guns pointed at our heads, sometimes what we thought were "life-or-death" issues turn out to be questions more of style than substance of the Faith. 

The Holy Father has been clear from the beginning that the universal catholic Faith is first and foremost about lived proclamation of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.  We are not a monolith of uniformity but an organic body in communion.  There is scheduled for Pope Francis' visit the signing of a joint declaration--as God is a God of surprises, these great leaders of the Church are also leaders of surprises.  I wonder what might be included in this declaration?  We hope and pray and watch.  These are difficult times to be Christians, but they are also exciting times. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014


The idea of "graduality" was raised in discussions during the Extraordinary Synod on the Family--it expressed the thought that we can lead people step by step to a full moral life, and in the meantime understand and accept that they are not "perfect" just yet.

The idea has been regarded by others in the Synod as a sellout of moral principles and an accommodation with relativism.

What can one say, pro or con, about this idea?  Let me offer the thoughts of CS Lewis on the topic.  In responding to the idea that divorce should be freely granted, he insists that promises made should be respected and kept:

To this someone may reply that he regarded the promise [of marital fidelity and permanence] made in church as a mere formality and never intended to keep it.  Whom, then, was he trying to deceive when he made it?  God?  That was really very unwise.  Himself?  That was not much wiser.  The bride, or bridegroom, or the 'in-laws'?  That was treacherous.  Most often, I think, the couple (or one of them) hoped to deceive the public.  They wanted the respectability that is attached to marriage without intending to pay the price: that is, they were imposters, they cheated.  If they are still contented cheats, I have nothing to say to them: who would urge the high and hard duty of chastity on the people who have not yet wished to be merely honest?

                                     --Mere Christianity, Book III, chapter 6

Are many of us not also in situations where we struggle to do better, yet have not attained "perfection"?  How should we be affirmed in the struggle while still having held out to us the goal of "more," of "better"?  Is all moral reflection intended to be 100% or 0%, with no other possibility?  These are the questions that graduality is attempting to think through.  It wants to reject moral relativism while also avoiding the attitude (condemned by Jesus--Matthew 23:4) of holding others to harsh standards with no concrete help to meet those standards.