Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Faced with Catholics who love the church but who hold dissenting views, Wuerl said, “In the pulpit, we’re supposed to present the teaching with all of its unvarnished clarity, but when you step out of the pulpit, you have to meet people where they are and try to walk with them.

This comment comes in the course of an interview with National Catholic Reporter's John Allen and others in Rome, as the Congregations (meetings of cardinals before the actual conclave) are about to begin.

It is crucial to his style as a "centrist" in the American Catholic Church (I guess it's no accident he's the Archbishop of Washington, DC) and highly thought of by Pope Benedict XVI (he was named "general secretary" of the last bishops' synod, on the new evangelization).

But his thinking mirrors that of a comment made years ago by the Catholic novelist Graham Greene, who said something to the effect:  You priests are harsh beyond belief when you preach in the pulpit, but you are human and understanding in wonderful ways in the confessional.  The trouble is, we novelists write in the confessional, and you priests judge us from the pulpit.
Wuerl's approach resonates also with that of the patron saint of parish priests, St Jean Vianney.  A parishioner of his was asked once if the Cure of Ars preached much, and the response was, "Oh, yes--long sermons:  always about hell!"  Yet in the confessional (his favorite place to minister) he would often impose penances that he himself would perform on the penitent's behalf.

He understood; Greene understood; Wuerl understands.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


On the Vatican's website today is posted the following notice:

    Mercoledì 13 febbraio 2013, alle ore 17, nella Basilica Vaticana, il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI celebrerà la Santa Messa con il rito di benedizione e di imposizione delle ceneri.

  • [Wednesday 13 February 2013, at 5:00 pm, in the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father Benedict XVI will celebrate Holy Mass with the Rite of Benediction and the imposition of ashes.]

    This doesn't sound too dramatic, until you remember that the tradition of the popes is to begin Ash Wednesday evening with a procession from Sant' Anselmo on the Aventine Hill to Santa Sabina, the first of the "Station Churches," for Mass and imposition of ashes.  And in fact it was so announced, only a few days ago, on 29 January.  So Pope Benedict is pulling away from the responsibilities of the Chair of Peter already, it seems...

    Monday, February 11, 2013


    If what I was speculating above were to come to pass, it would give a whole new meaning to "World Youth Day."

    Alternatively, it's also possible that WYD (or in Italian GMG:  Giornata Mondiale del Gioventu) might wind up being a homecoming...


    It is stunning news which comes today, that Pope Benedict XVI, effective the end of February, will become the first Pope since St Celestine V (end of the 13th century) to resign.  I don't recall writing about it earlier, but I made no secret of my judgment that Benedict's health was very poor, based on my seeing him last month at a General Audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall during my visit to Italy.  There were several clues that morning:

    He came in 10 minutes late for the audience, something he normally would never do.
    His Italian, once notably "Germanic" in pronunciation and for me very easy to listen to and understand, was this time slurred and very difficult for me to catch.  This was true, sadly, even when he offered a "summary" of his address in English.  Ironically, I understood him best when he did his "summary" in Spanish.
    He moved slowly and looked very thin and haggard of face.
    He needed several drinks of water to get through even the actual (Italian) speech.
    It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is something going on here beyond merely the aging process...

    In 2004 I found myself in Rome during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, the document on ecumenism.  The events culminated in Evening Prayer in St Peter's, which I attended.  On that occasion, Pope John Paul II was literally wheeled in, and he began an address to the participants of the event.  But after only a few sentences, he started choking and gasping.  Cardinal Kasper had to finish the speech for him.  I knew then that things were not good, and from that time on we had Pope John Paul II in our weekend Prayers of the Faithful.  He died only a few months later, in April 2005.  It should be obvious that I write this recollection because my heart is perceiving a connection.  It makes me wonder, too, if Benedict was a friend who encouraged John Paul to resign because of his health (an encouragement, of course, rejected the the Pope).

    If there is one great regret in Pope Benedict for his resignation, I believe it is his not being able to preside over the canonization of Bl John Henry Newman (a canonization which, when it happens, I will swim the Atlantic if necessary to attend). 

    Some time in Lent a conclave will be summoned to elect a new pontiff.  Just a suggestion:  you might want to keep your eyes turned toward Manila...