Sunday, October 22, 2017

News at dawn on a Sunday? Sure, why not?

For everything else flitting across your screens these days, folks, it helps to be discerning about what's genuinely important...

...and when you look at the trio of shots across the bow reported below, well, there you have it. (Just to be clear, did you think a speech referencing the death penalty was actually about the death penalty?)

Much as it's already made for quite the fortnight, there'll be more to drop over the next several weeks. Along the way, though – with the intensity of news matched as ever by the costs that come with keeping on top of it – the reminder's again in order that these pages are only made possible thanks to your support.


Yet again and always, all thanks – not just for keeping the lights on, but all the encouragement and kindness that makes the ride a joy and gift.

Still, dear Lord, what on earth could be next?

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In Magnum's Wake, Pope "Clarifies" Sarah. Again.

In an extraordinary rebuke to one of his own Curial cardinals, the Pope has aimed to "explain simply, and hopefully clearly... some errors" in his Worship chief's understanding of Magnum Principium, his recent motu proprio on liturgical translations, indicating the new norms granting new oversight to bishops' conferences as a fresh development and declaring several key pieces of the operative rules in 2001's Liturgiam authenticam "abrogated."

A year since Francis' last open clash with his top liturgical aide, a personal letter from the pontiff to the CDW prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah (above, ad orientem), dated 15 October, was published this morning by the Italian outlet La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana and subsequently confirmed by the Holy See Press Office, as well as being placed on the Italian homepage of Vatican Radio. (Ironically enough, even as this Ordinary Sunday takes precedence, today marks the feast of St John Paul II, under whose authority LA was promulgated.)

Noting a recent, lengthy commentary in which Sarah stated that LA remains "the authoritative text concerning liturgical translations," the Pope responded by relating that paragraphs 79-84 of the 2001 norms – those which deal precisely with the requirement for a vernacular rendering's recognitio by Rome – were now abolished, going on to note that Magnum "no longer upholds that translations must conform on all points with the norms of Liturgiam authenticam, as was the case in the past."

In the new balance of responsibility, Francis said, Sarah's contention that "the words recognitio and confirmatio, without being strictly synonymous [to explain the Vatican's role], are nevertheless interchangeable" – in essence, that little had changed from LA – was not the case. As the pontiff explained, "the faculty" now belongs to the respective bishops' conferences "to judge the goodness and coherence of terms in the translation of the original, albeit in dialogue with the Holy See"; in other words, not a unilateral call on Rome's part, even at the process' final stage.

Given considerable focus in the new norms' wake on the use of the word "fideliter" – that is, a conference's charge of weighing a translation's fidelity to the original – in Magnum's revision of the Code of Canon Law, the pontiff writes that the term, as judged by an episcopal conference, implies a "triple" meaning: "first, to the original text; to the particular language in which it is translated, and finally to the understanding of the text by its audience."

In light of LA's revision of translation principles – which placed a premium on accuracy to the original Latin text over a "dynamic equivalence" approach that allowed a looser standard to ensure widespread comprehension – the Pope's new interpretation is of particular significance.

While Francis began his letter by thanking the Guinean cardinal for his "contribution," it bears recalling that, on Magnum's release in early September, Sarah – who Papa Bergoglio himself named to CDW in late 2014 – was conspicuous by his absence: an explanatory note on the new norms was instead issued by his deputy, the English Archbishop Arthur Roche. A former bishop of Leeds and chairman of ICEL – the global coordinating body for English-language translations – Roche was likewise received by Francis in a private audience earlier this month by himself.

Given the broad circulation of Sarah's earlier interpretation on the new norms – in particular, among circles routinely critical, or even hostile, toward the pontiff – Francis closed the letter by asking the cardinal to transmit his response to the outlets which previously ran Sarah's piece, as well as to the episcopal conferences and CDW's staff and membership.

The letter published today marks the third instance of Sarah's responses to Francis meeting a very public retort from the Pope. In early 2016, as CDW promulgated the decree formally allowing women to participate in the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, an attached letter from the pontiff to the cardinal revealed that Papa Bergoglio's directive for the change had been held up for over a year.

Six months later, Francis (through the Press Office) issued a "clarification" that Sarah had been "incorrectly interpreted" in calling for priests to adopt the ad orientem stance in celebrating Mass, which the cardinal urged days earlier at a conference for traditionalists in London.

In a major speech to Italian liturgists late last summer, Francis declared, "with certainty and magisterial authority," that the Vatican II reforms are "irreversible" – adding that, for the church, "the liturgy is life, and not an idea to be understood."

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Vatican "Prime" – Pope Calls Synod for the Amazon (The Forest, That Is)

At the Angelus which wrapped up this morning's canonization of 35 saints – all but two martyrs from indigenous communities in Mexico and Brazil – the Pope took the liberty of making a fitting, yet (another) surprise announcement, here translated into English:
Welcoming the desire of some Episcopal Conferences of Latin America, as well as the voices of pastors and faithful from other parts of the world, I have decided to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, which will take place in Rome in October 2019. The principal scope of this gathering is to set out new ways for the evangelization of that portion of God's People, especially its indigenous communities, often forgotten and without the chance for a serene living, as well as the crisis of the Amazon forest, a critically important lung for our planet. May the new saints [canonized today] intercede for this ecclesial event, that, in respect for the beauty of creation, all the peoples of the earth might praise God, Lord of the universe [Ed. reference to Laudato si'] and so be enlightened by him to follow the paths of justice and peace.
*    *    *
To be sure, this development brings numerous ramifications, merely the first of which is a confirmation that the Synod on Young People and Vocational Discernment, slated to take place a year from now, will not be a two-part process, unlike the 2014-5 assemblies on the family which birthed Amoris Laetitia. From another angle, meanwhile, given Francis' keen familiarity with the region encompassing Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela – not to mention, as the Synod's president, his personal choice of the event's timeframe – today's announcement marks the 80 year-old pontiff's clearest signal to date that he has every intention of remaining at the wheel well into the mid-range future.

In June, Francis told the bishops of Peru during their ad limina conversation that he was considering a Synod for the Amazon, with one of the prelates reporting that significant obstacles to travel within the region made ministry very difficult, as a sparse number of clergy has long been a matter of local concern.

On the procedural front, as opposed to the Synod's topic-based "Ordinary" gatherings – comprised of roughly 200 bishops proportionally elected from across the global church, in addition to the heads of Curial offices and a handful of appointed advisers and experts – a "Special" assembly is focused on one specific area of the Catholic world, from which the bulk of its membership is likewise chosen. To represent the wider church, Special Synods see just a small number of prelates invited by the Pope from outside the region in question, their specific experience being deemed useful for the discussions.

In the device's most prominent use, now-St John Paul II called Special Synods for each of the five super-continents in the immediate run-up to the year 2000; the four-week meeting for "America" – the entire landmass, both north and south – was opened 20 years ago next month. The last Special assembly, however, came in 2010, when Benedict XVI convened one for the Middle East, following a second gathering for Africa a year prior.

As for the dramatis personae of the Amazonian event, a familiar face on the Roman scene again stands out: despite being 83 – that is, supposedly "retired" – the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes OFM is certain to play a critical role in the preparations given his ongoing role as head of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network, the multi-national coordinating body of the region's bishops, founded in 2014 at Francis' behest.

While the group lacks the juridic standing of an episcopal conference per se, the void is more than compensated for by direct papal imprimatur: seated next to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio by seniority at the 2013 Conclave, the former archbishop of Sao Paulo famously urged the Pope-to-be "Don't forget the poor!" as the votes piled up in his favor – a word that, he later admitted, would lead the first American on Peter's Chair to shatter even more precedent by taking the name Francis upon accepting his election.

In a gesture that brought their closeness into the spotlight, the new pontiff upended yet another custom (remember: all this took place within the first 15 minutes) by plucking Hummes out from the Sistine Chapel rows to join him on the central balcony of St Peter's for his appearance before the world – a perk traditionally enjoyed solely by the senior cardinal from each of the College's three orders.

Yet what made the moment even more extraordinary was its rich backstory: on his arrival in Rome in late 2006 as Benedict's choice to head the Congregation for the Clergy, Hummes was promptly slapped down within the Vatican for comments he made just before departing Brazil that, in terms of mandatory priestly celibacy, "the majority of the apostles were married," then punctuating the point by saying "the church has to observe these things... [and] advance with history."

By bringing his "good friend" with him on his debut in white, Francis was sending a signal to the Curia he inherited – namely, that the Brazilian behind his shoulder was back at the center of things. As for what that means from here, with both Papa Bergoglio and Hummes stating since that the Amazon's church "must" have an "Amazonian face," with an "indigenous clergy" – and the region's unique culture and challenges having spurred calls from its bishops for the possibility of married priests – at first blush, the 2019 gathering has the prospect of being the most charged moment of Francis' push for an enhanced synodality in the church (...let alone the import of the already-stated environmental focus).

If you've been around here long enough, you already knew that the Synod was the key to everything else, and how a mandate for "the inculturation of the Gospel" is the oft-forgotten "bomb" in this pontificate's programmatic text. 

Even for said awareness, though, today's news just made both a bit more real – indeed, as Hummes himself mapped out during his own 2015 visit to the US, the process ahead will entail "the harmonization of the Catholic Church with the native culture of the Amazon"...

In other words, not the other way around.

Yet again, these are interesting times. As always, stay tuned.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"A Dynamic and Living Reality" – The Catechism at 25... The Council at 55

In the world of the Roman Church, today's date has come to hold something of a mythic significance... yet all of it rooted in the modern age.

Fifty-five years ago on this 11th of October, John XXIII opened the twenty-first ecumenical council in Christian history – the second at the Vatican – with an warning against "prophets of doom" and an exhortation that, "at the present time, the spouse of Christ prefers to use the medicine of mercy rather than the weapons of severity; and she thinks she meets today's needs by explaining the validity of her doctrine more fully rather than by condemning."

Though Papa Roncalli died all of eight months later, on 3 June 1963, this opening day of Vatican II is now marked as his feast.

It was likewise in the vein of the Council that, upon the 20th anniversary of its closing, the then cardinal-archbishop of Boston proposed a universal Catechism – the first since Trent – with an eye to integrating the development of doctrine into a contemporary authoritative form.

In retrospect, it seems all the richer that the idea which would forever enshrine Bernard Law's Roman clout was pitched at a Synod of Bishops; given an enthusiastic takeup in the Aula (at least, from its dais), it was promulgated a quarter-century ago today after an arduous six years of drafts, committees, consultation and discernment: that is, a synodal process in itself.

Often as Catechism of the Catholic Church has been appealed to over these last 18 months – and even longer – it's apparently gone forgotten in those same quarters that the text's authority is contingent on one thing alone: the signature of The Pope...

...in other words, the same stamp likewise borne by more recent contributions to the Magisterium.

Accordingly, returning to the scene of the genesis of both, tonight saw the 266th Bishop of Rome mark this day's milestones by "taking stock"... and – using a memorable example of how the Catechism was already revised within months of its publication – showing along the way how, in a living church, even "the finished product" remains a work in progress.

Here below, the Pope's address from tonight's event, organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

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The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, by which Saint John Paul II, thirty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, offers a significant opportunity for taking stock of the progress made in the meantime. It was the desire and will of Saint John XXIII to call the Council, not primarily to condemn error, but so that the Church could have an opportunity at last to present the beauty of her faith in Jesus Christ in language attuned to the times. “It is necessary,” the Pope stated in his opening address, “that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate” (11 October 1962). “It is our duty,” he continued, “not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves, with an earnest will and without fear, to that work which our era demands of us, thus pursuing the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries” (ibid.).

It is in the very nature of the Church to “guard” the deposit of faith and to “pursue” the Church’s path, so that the truth present in Jesus’ preaching of the Gospel may grow in fullness until the end of time. This is a grace granted to the People of God, but it is also a task and a mission for which we are responsible, that of proclaiming to our contemporaries in a new and fuller way the perennial Good News. With the joy born of Christian hope, and armed with the “medicine of mercy” (ibid.), we approach the men and women of our time to help them discover the inexhaustible richness contained in the person of Jesus Christ.

In presenting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Saint John Paul II stated that it should “take into account the doctrinal statements which down the centuries the Holy Spirit has made known to his Church. It should also help illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which had not yet emerged in the past” (Fidei Depositum, 3). The Catechism is thus an important instrument. It presents the faithful with the perennial teaching of the Church so that they can grow in their understanding of the faith. But it especially seeks to draw our contemporaries – with their new and varied problems – to the Church, as she seeks to present the faith as the meaningful answer to human existence at this moment of history. It is not enough to find a new language in which to articulate our perennial faith; it is also urgent, in the light of the new challenges and prospects facing humanity, that the Church be able to express the “new things” of Christ’s Gospel, that, albeit present in the word of God, have not yet come to light. This is the treasury of “things old and new” of which Jesus spoke when he invited his disciples to teach the newness that he had brought, without forsaking the old (cf. Mt 13:52).

One of the most beautiful pages in the Gospel of John is his account of the so-called “priestly prayer” of Jesus. Just before his passion and death, Jesus speaks to the Father of his obedience in having brought to fulfilment the mission entrusted to him. His words, a kind of hymn to love, also contain the request that the disciples be gathered and preserved in unity (cf. Jn 17:12-15). The words, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3), represent the culmination of Jesus’s mission.

To know God, as we are well aware, is not in the first place an abstract exercise of human reason, but an irrepressible desire present in the heart of every person. This knowledge comes from love, for we have encountered the Son of God on our journey (cf. Lumen Fidei, 28). Jesus of Nazareth walks at our side and introduces us, by his words and the signs he performs, to the great mystery of the Father’s love. This knowledge is strengthened daily by faith’s certainty that we are loved and, for this reason, part of a meaningful plan. Those who love long to know better the beloved, and therein to discover the hidden richness that appears each day as something completely new.

For this reason, our Catechism unfolds in the light of love, as an experience of knowledge, trust, and abandonment to the mystery. In explaining its structure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church borrows a phrase from the Roman Catechism and proposes it as the key to its reading and application: “The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 25).

Along these same lines, I would like now to bring up a subject that ought to find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a more adequate and coherent treatment in the light of these expressed aims. I am speaking of the death penalty. This issue cannot be reduced to a mere résumé of traditional teaching without taking into account not only the doctrine as it has developed in the teaching of recent Popes, but also the change in the awareness of the Christian people which rejects an attitude of complacency before a punishment deeply injurious of human dignity. It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity. It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which – ultimately – only God is the true judge and guarantor. No man, “not even a murderer, loses his personal dignity” (Letter to the President of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, 20 March 2015), because God is a Father who always awaits the return of his children who, knowing that they have made mistakes, ask for forgiveness and begin a new life. No one ought to be deprived not only of life, but also of the chance for a moral and existential redemption that in turn can benefit the community.

In past centuries, when means of defence were scarce and society had yet to develop and mature as it has, recourse to the death penalty appeared to be the logical consequence of the correct application of justice. Sadly, even in the Papal States recourse was had to this extreme and inhumane remedy that ignored the primacy of mercy over justice. Let us take responsibility for the past and recognize that the imposition of the death penalty was dictated by a mentality more legalistic than Christian. Concern for preserving power and material wealth led to an over-estimation of the value of the law and prevented a deeper understanding of the Gospel. Nowadays, however, were we to remain neutral before the new demands of upholding personal dignity, we would be even more guilty.

Here we are not in any way contradicting past teaching, for the defence of the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death has been taught by the Church consistently and authoritatively. Yet the harmonious development of doctrine demands that we cease to defend arguments that now appear clearly contrary to the new understanding of Christian truth. Indeed, as Saint Vincent of Lérins pointed out, “Some may say: Shall there be no progress of religion in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For who is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it?” (Commonitorium, 23.1; PL 50). It is necessary, therefore, to reaffirm that no matter how serious the crime that has been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.

“The Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes” (Dei Verbum, 8). The Council Fathers could not have found a finer and more synthetic way of expressing the nature and mission of the Church. Not only in “teaching”, but also in “life” and “worship”, are the faithful able to be God’s People. Through a series of verbs the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation expresses the dynamic nature of this process: “This Tradition develops […] grows […] and constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth, until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her” (ibid.)

Tradition is a living reality and only a partial vision regards the “deposit of faith” as something static. The word of God cannot be moth-balled like some old blanket in an attempt to keep insects at bay! No. The word of God is a dynamic and living reality that develops and grows because it is aimed at a fulfilment that none can halt. This law of progress, in the happy formulation of Saint Vincent of Lérins, “consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age” (Commonitorium, 23.9: PL 50), is a distinguishing mark of revealed truth as it is handed down by the Church, and in no way represents a change in doctrine.

Doctrine cannot be preserved without allowing it to develop, nor can it be tied to an interpretation that is rigid and immutable without demeaning the working of the Holy Spirit. “God, who in many and various ways spoke of old to our fathers” (Heb 1:1), “uninterruptedly converses with the bride of his beloved Son” (Dei Verbum, 8). We are called to make this voice our own by “reverently hearing the word of God” (ibid., 1), so that our life as a Church may progress with the same enthusiasm as in the beginning, towards those new horizons to which the Lord wishes to guide us.

I thank you for this meeting and for your work, and to all of you I cordially impart my blessing.
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Friday, October 06, 2017

In Orange, Tet +Nguyen – Finally, US’ Asian Fold Nabs New Bishop

(Updated 4pm ET with presser video.)

“Are all of your sons here?”

Time and time again, that’s been the Pope’s question to his aides when addressing the appointment of bishops. Citing the Old Testament story of the calling of David, from Francis the line is less an innocent query than a marching order to "go and fetch" those who, like the boy shepherd-turned-king, are off working far afield.

In this, for nearly a decade and a half, one group has been glaringly conspicuous by its absence: the sons and pastors of the roughly 4 million Asian faithful in the US, a community whose constant growth – and ever more prominent sense of commitment – has arguably made them Stateside Catholicism’s most vibrant, and visibly dedicated, bloc….

Yet absent from the "center," that is, until now.

Breaking a 14-year drought for the Stateside church’s Pacific influx, at Roman Noon this Friday, the Pope named Fr Thanh Thai Nguyen (left), 64 – a Vietnamese "boat person" (refugee) serving until now as pastor of St Joseph’s parish in Jacksonville, Florida – as a second auxiliary bishop of Orange: the 1.3 million-member Southern California fold which claims the nation’s largest Vietnamese contingent.

With the nod, the bishop-elect – just the latest of the ongoing "Auxnado" that'll add some 30 new assistant hats to the US bench – becomes only the fourth Asian ever to be called into the American hierarchy, and among them, the second from his homeland. In 2002, Orange received Bishop Dominic Luong as a deputy, likewise plucked from across the country – in his case, after years in New Orleans, itself another major center of the diaspora. (Ordained a priest in Buffalo after being sent from Vietnam at the very start of the war, Luong retired in late 2015 upon turning 75.)

All around, the last time a trans-Pacific priest joined the nation’s hierarchy came in late 2003, when the Filipino-born Oscar Solis was appointed an auxiliary of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest local church. Early this year, Solis came into an even bigger watershed upon his promotion to Salt Lake City, thus becoming the first Asian cleric ever to lead one of the US' 179 dioceses.

As reflected in those earlier instances and again today, potential bishops from non-Anglo ethnic groups tend to be drawn from a national list given their usually small numbers among a local presbyterate. That’s especially been true in this case – with a Vietnamese auxiliary long known to be the explicit wish of Orange’s Bishop Kevin Vann, it is understood that the long dearth of Asian picks required the wider pool of potential nominees to be constituted from scratch, the task daunting and then some due to the intense vetting for any single cleric to be “cleared” for an appointment, and at least three of those needed to fill a terna.

Indeed, such was the extent of the search behind today’s move that, while an ordinary request for twin auxiliaries would normally see both choices unveiled and ordained together, it’s already been more than 10 months since the first half of the petitioned Orange duo – the home-grown veteran pastor and clergy chief, now Bishop Tim Freyer, 53 – was appointed.

Process aside, while Asian-Americans merely make up some four percent of the nation’s 75 million Catholics, the community’s sense of devotion has, in recent years, seen them provide a full quarter of the US’ priestly and religious vocations – in other words, pulling roughly six times their weight. That disparity is even more overpowering out West; among other examples, Orange’s own priesthood class this year was comprised of one Anglo, one Korean, and four Vietnamese ordinands, the latter community long dubbed the “new Irish” in the California church and beyond.

Elsewhere in the country, meanwhile, Nguyen’s fellow emigres have been packing and building their own churches at a striking clip. Last month, a Vietnamese parish in Atlanta which outgrew a makeshift 700-seat site within years broke ground for a new, $15 million church doubled in size, and just before departing the North Texas Metroplex five years ago, Vann himself dedicated Vietnamese Martyrs (above) – a 2,000-seat mecca in Arlington thought to be the nation’s largest “ethnic parish” of any kind.

Most of all, Stateside Catholicism’s second-largest regular gathering takes place every year on a field in rural southwestern Missouri, as tens of thousands of the faithful trek hundreds of miles to take part in “Marian Days” – the long August weekend started by an exiled Vietnamese order in gratitude for finding a home, and freedom, on these shores.

In a normal year, the festival of prayer, music and food sees a crowd of about 75,000 pitch tents in Carthage (usual pop. 14,300). Yet this summer, to mark the event’s 40th anniversary (below), over 100,000 showed up.

Per usual, the only low figure in this mix is the level of interest and/or support the broader (read: Anglo-dominant) "Catholic conversation" has shown toward any of this....

Namely, 0.

And if that’s not just another sign of a people in decline, with its priorities out of whack – because a historic exodus of souls isn’t already enough? – as ever, the remedy seems to lie less in explanations than it does in conversion.

* * *
Impressive as the context is – well, the Asian-American one – the Pope’s pick brings a story that’s nothing short of moving.

While that'd be the case in any circumstance, as the US bishops have mobilized to an extraordinary degree over recent months on behalf of migrants and refugees – and against the backdrop of a planned Federal slashing of receptions for asylum-seekers to their lowest level since 1980 – today's nod sends an even more potent message.

One of 11 children who entered a Vietnamese minor seminary as a teenager, by the mid-1970s Nguyen (pron. "Noo-WIN") and his confreres came under the close scrutiny of the Communist government, culminating in a stint under house arrest.

Fleeing his homeland by boat with 26 of his relatives, their 28-foot vessel was caught in a tropical storm at sea, after which the family was left without food or water for ten of the 18 days it took for them to reach the Philippines, where they would spend nearly a year in a refugee camp.

Able to come to the US thanks to family already living in Texas, the future bishop was taken in by a friend in Connecticut, where – still to be ordained and knowing little English – Nguyen got his start as a janitor at a Catholic Charities facility in Hartford, picking up the language by taking night classes. After several years teaching in inner-city public schools, he returned to discernment with the La Salette Missionaries, who urged him to consider the priesthood after initially applying to be a brother.

Following studies at the Jesuits’ Weston School of Theology (since merged into Boston College), he was ordained in 1991, at the age of 38. Three years later – having been invited to minister to a rapidly-growing Vietnamese presence in northeast Florida – Nguyen incardinated into the diocese of St Augustine, taking the reins of his first assignment there after his then-pastor, Fr Robert Baker, was named bishop of Charleston in 1999. (He of "No more Whispers!" fame, Baker marked his 10th anniversary as bishop of Birmingham earlier this week.)

In the 4,000-family pastorate he's held until today – the largest outpost in Florida's founding diocese; its ample church (above) opened in 1999 – the bishop-elect has overseen a sprawling community spread across a combined nine weekend Masses in English, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and the "Extraordinary Form" of the Roman Missal, plus a school of 550 students, and everything else that comes with both.

Given the vast scope, energy and diversity of the Orange church – whose larger parishes top 8,500 families of every background – suffice it to say, it's preparation well had.

As Nguyen only touched down at Disneyland late yesterday, and with plans for his move West still unclear, the ordination date remains to be determined.

SVILUPPO: Even if the legendary plot's "Crystal" centerpiece won't be dedicated for Catholic worship until mid-2019, with its 40-acre campus already serving as the diocesan hub, Nguyen turned in a memorable debut at the Cultural Center next to the future Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove... beginning with his own "warning" to the SoCal crowd about his "Vietnamese Boston accent":


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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

For Tucson, The Pope's "Tuesday Memo" – In Latest Border Run, Francis Looks to Kansas

(Updated with debut video, etc.)

Bringing the US' appointment docket back to life after the summer hiatus, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named Bishop Edward Weisenburger (left), 56 – the head of northwest Kansas' Salina diocese since 2012 – as the seventh bishop of Tucson, the 400,000-member fold comprising the Arizona Borderland.

Notably a key figure in the process which has now produced Blessed Stanley Rother – yet a low-key, surprising choice for this post – the Oklahoma City native succeeds Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who, in a rarity for these days, remained in office past his 76th birthday in August. Then again, as the new retiree's mother, Eva, has kept famously spry – marking her 105th birthday in June – the hat-makers clearly saw no need to rush.

The mother-diocese of an Arizona church undergoing a fresh round of expansion, Tucson is an almost unique nexus of the two defining challenges of this era in American Catholic history: the growth and vitality born of immigration, and the damage and need for rebuilding from revelations of a local history of sex-abuse and its coverup.

On the latter front, in 2004 – a year after Kicanas took office – the diocese became the second Stateside outpost to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following a crush of over 30 lawsuits stretching back decades. In a striking turnaround, however, the Chicago native's transparency push scored a fresh sense of confidence, so much so that the diocesan appeal in the storm's wake raised record amounts.

A lead deputy to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin before his Southwest transfer, a significant part of Kicanas' outreach came in the form of a pioneering use of digital technology: from taking the diocese's reins in early 2003, the bishop began the online, fully public circulation of his weekly "Monday Memo" – an online bulletin of his own doings and events around the diocese – keeping the practice faithfully until the lack of one yesterday, when he ostensibly didn't want to spill any beans on today's news.

In terms of immigration, meanwhile, amid one of the country's flashpoint local situations over the ever-charged issue, it remains telling that Tucson's nearby border-town of Nogales was chosen as the site for Cardinal Seán O'Malley's evocative 2014 Mass at the fence separating Mexico and the US, at which Kicanas (above) joined Francis' lead North American adviser in distributing Communion into hands stretched through the barrier's slats from the other side.

All that said, this morning's move presents a rather striking study in contrasts: while the predecessor's Lebanese heritage (and Spanish motto) have helped Kicanas look and act the part of a Latino bishop for a diocese that's roughly three-fourths Hispanic, per early word from Salina, his Sooner-bred successor comes "not fully fluent" in the language, but with "a working knowledge" of it.

Then again, stranger things have happened before – and among the genre, the time Kicanas snapped on a fiddle-back to administer Confirmations in the Extraordinary Form returns vividly to mind.

According to late word circulated among the locals, Weisenburger will be introduced unusually early, with Kicanas slated to make the announcement at 7am Arizona time (10am ET/1600 Rome) in St Augustine Cathedral. The installation date yet to be disclosed is slated for Friday, November 29th.

With today's move, just four Stateside Latin sees now stand vacant. As all of three others are led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age, in the wake of yesterday's news, it bears noting that the largest among any of the open seats is Las Vegas – an ever-growing community of some 800,000 Catholics, where Bishop Joe Pepe turned 75 in April... and now, six weeks after burying one of his two closest brothers on the bench, is suddenly tasked with handling the fallout of the largest mass shooting in modern US history.

SVILUPPO – With the Pope's pick making a memorable first impression – by quoting "The Wizard of Oz" en español – here below, fullvid of this morning's Cathedral intro....


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Sunday, October 01, 2017

"The Dream Remains A Work In Progress" – At the Red Mass, American History, Latin Style

By long tradition the most prominent preaching slot in American Catholicism, this Sunday before the first Monday in October brought a fresh twist of history to the Washington Red Mass: with the choice of Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, for the first time, a Hispanic – and, for good measure, a naturalized citizen – took the pulpit before the usual majority of the Supreme Court, scores of Federal officials and the capital's legal community.

A canny, deeply symbolic pick amid the current political context, Gomez's turn in St Matthew's Cathedral caps a momentous year for the 65 year-old head of the largest diocese the Stateside church has ever known. Days after issuing an emotional plea on behalf of LA's massive immigrant community from his own cathedral in the wake of Donald Trump's election, the Mexican-born prelate was catapulted into the vice-presidency of the US bishops – a move which both signaled the church's primary fault line with the new administration and, with Latinos emerging ever more as the largest bloc of the nation's 75 million-member fold, placed one of their own as never before in line for the bench's helm.

Even if Gomez's ascent to the top post is still two years in the future, the current USCCB chief Cardinal Daniel DiNardo has already given his deputy an unusually broad portfolio and sizable public role, so much so that the duo – whose ties go back to their days as the twin archbishops of Texas – essentially functions as more of a joint presidency than a 1-2 arrangement.

With five of SCOTUS' nine members fronting the pews – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito – per custom, today's focus was less on the dynamics of what's expected to be a "momentous" term (beginning with a major religious-freedom case) than the guiding principles of law, justice, public service and the common good.

As for the context of the moment, today's 65th edition of the liturgy was likely the last to be celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl – soon to be two years past the retirement age of 75, Wuerl's successor at the helm of the 700,000-member capital church is currently expected to emerge sometime in the first half of 2018.

Per the protocol surrounding the Red Mass – always celebrated as a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit to bless the judicial year ahead – a new archbishop of Washington normally gives its homily in his first year in office.

Back to today's preacher, keeping to a thread he's employed in other major venues, Gomez rooted his reflection far from the East, looking instead to California's role in the American founding and its lessons for the present, with a pointed note on "our struggles today with racism and nativism" and other civic divisions among the challenges at hand.

With video of the Mass prohibited per Supreme Court custom, here's audio of the homily...



...and Gomez's full text (emphases original):
*    *    *
My dear brothers and sisters,

I am so honored to be with you this morning. I bring you greetings from the family of God in Los Angeles, the City of the Angels.

The Church in Los Angeles is the largest Catholic community in the country. We are a global church, an immigrant church, made up of people who come from all over the world. We have about 5 million Catholics in L.A. and every day, we pray and worship and we serve in more than 40 different languages.

The Franciscan missionaries who founded Los Angeles named our city for the Mother of God, the Queen of the Angels.

One of those missionaries was St. Junípero Serra, our newest American saint. St. Junípero was Hispanic, a migrant from Spain, and he entered this country after living for more than a decade in Mexico.

In his time, there were many in the California colonial government who denied the full humanity of the indigenous peoples living in this land. St. Junípero became their champion. He even wrote a “bill of rights” to protect them. And by the way — he wrote that bill of rights — three years before America’s Declaration of Independence.

Most Americans do not know this history. But Pope Francis does.

That is why, when the Holy Father came to this country in 2015, his first act was to hold a solemn Mass where he canonized St. Junípero. He held that Mass — not in Los Angeles, but right here in the nation’s capital.

Pope Francis was making a point. He believes we should honor St. Junípero as “one of the founding fathers of the United States.”[i]

I agree. I think we should, too. Because remembering St. Junípero and the first missionaries changes how we remember our national story. It reminds us that America’s first beginnings were not political. America’s first beginnings were spiritual.

The missionaries came here first — long before the Pilgrims, long before George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Long before this country even had a name.

These missionaries — together with the colonists and the statesmen who came later — they laid the spiritual and intellectual groundwork for a nation that remains unique in human history. A nation conceived under God and committed to promoting human dignity, freedom and the flourishing of a diversity of peoples, races, ideas and beliefs.

That is why this Red Mass is so important each year. There is a time for politics and a time for prayer. This is a day for prayer.

We acknowledge today, as America’s founders did — that this is still one nation under God; that his laws still govern the world we live in; and that we go forward still “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”[ii]

We ask the Holy Spirit today to open our hearts and help us to see our duties — in the light of God’s Word, in the light of his plans for creation.

The first reading we heard this morning, the story of that first Pentecost — reveals the Creator’s beautiful dream for the human race.

As we heard, there were men and women there in Jerusalem — from “every nation under heaven.” And the Spirit of God spoke to all of them in their own “native tongues.”

Pentecost is the “birthday” of the Church and the first day of her mission. And the mission that Jesus gave her is the beautiful mission of gathering all the peoples of the earth into one family of God.

In God’s eyes, there are no foreigners, there are no strangers! All of us are family. When God looks at us, he sees beyond the color of our skin, or the countries where we come from, or the language that we speak. God sees only his children — sons and daughters made in his image.

My brothers and sisters, the truth is this: Before God made the sun and the moon, before he placed the first star in the sky or started to fill the oceans with water — before the foundation of the world — God knew your name and my name. And he had a plan of love for our lives.

Every life is sacred and every life has a purpose in God’s creation! Every one of us is born for greater things. This is not just a beautiful-sounding idea. This is what Jesus Christ came to teach us! And we are still trying to learn it.

The people who wrote this country’s laws and formed our institutions — they understood this teaching. They understood it so well that they called these truths “self-evident.”

America’s founders believed that the only justification for government is to serve the human person — who is created in God’s image; who is endowed with God-given dignity, rights and responsibilities; and who is called by God to a transcendent destiny.

My brothers and sisters, you all share in the responsibility for this great government. Public service is a noble vocation. It takes honesty and courage. It takes prudence and humility. And it takes prayer and sacrifice.

So today, let us ask the Holy Spirit for his gifts and renew our commitment to this vision of a government that serves the human person.

Let us commit ourselves to an America that cares for the young and the elderly, for the poor and the sick; an America where the hungry find bread and the homeless a place to live; an America that welcomes the immigrant and refugee and offers the prisoner a second chance.

Of course, we can always talk about the ways our nation has failed to live up to its founding vision. From the start, Americans have engaged in passionate arguments about these things, and these conversations are vital to our democracy.

From the original sins of slavery and the cruel mistreatment of native peoples, to our struggles today with racism and nativism — the American dream is still a work in progress.

We have come a long way. But we have not come nearly far enough. That should not make us give in to cynicism or despair. For all our weakness and failure: America is still a beacon of hope for peoples of every nation, who look to this country for refuge, for freedom and equality under God.

Throughout our history, men and women of faith have always led movements for justice and social change.

I am thinking of the efforts to abolish slavery and to give women the right to vote. I am thinking of the civil rights movement, the farmworkers movement, the peace movement and the right-to-life movement. It was a book by a Catholic Worker that helped launch the “war on poverty” in the 1960s.[iii]

This is why religious freedom is so essential to who we are as Americans. We should never silence the voices of believers. They connect us to our founders’ vision. Today more than ever, we need their spirit of peacemaking and searching for nonviolent solutions.

In the Gospel passage that we heard this morning, Jesus comes to his disciples, he shows them his wounds, and then he “breathes” on them.

What we are witnessing in this scene — is a new creation.

In the beginning, the Creator formed man and woman in his own image. And then, the Book of Genesis tells us, God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life.”[iv]

In this passage we heard this morning, Jesus comes to create a new humanity — a new people formed in the image of his forgiveness and made alive by the power of his Spirit.

This scene is rich in meaning. When Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” — yes, he is giving his Church the power to forgive sins in his name.

But more than that, he is giving every one of us — the power to forgive those who trespass against us.

And that power to forgive — it is the greatest power that men and women possess under heaven. If only we could understand that! Because when we forgive, we are imitating Jesus Christ.

The power to grant forgiveness and show mercy is the image of God. In many ways, to forgive is what makes us fully human.

My brothers and sisters, let me conclude by suggesting that forgiveness is part of the unfinished revolution in American society.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting what has happened or excusing what is wrong; it does not mean ignoring what divides us.

True forgiveness sets us free from the cycles of resistance and retaliation; it sets us free to seek reconciliation and healing.

And this is what we need in America today — a new spirit of compassion and cooperation, a new sense of our common humanity.

We need to treat “others” as our brothers and our sisters. Even those who oppose or disagree with us. The mercy and love that we desire — this is the mercy and love that we must show to our neighbors.

May God bless you all for your service to this great country! And may God bless America!

And may Our Blessed Mother Mary, help us all to renew the promise of America. To commit ourselves once again to the truths that our founders entrusted to us.

[i] Homily, Pontifical North American College (May 2, 2015).
[ii] Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).
[iii] Michael Harrington, The Other America (Macmillan, 1962).
[iv] Gen. 2:7.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

"I Want To Repeat Clearly" – On Amoris, The Pope's "Dominic Option"

Almost 18 months since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, a fresh round of skirmishes mounted over last weekend as a group of 62 clerics and lay scholars issued a 25-page "filial correction" of the Pope, charging seven instances of "words, deeds and omissions" of Francis' which, they said, have "serve[d] to propagate... heretical propositions."

While the letter garnered an unsurprising firestorm in the Catholic conversation's more pyromaniac quarters, that the lone prelate among the initial signatories was Bishop Bernard Fellay – the no-longer-excommunicated, yet still not-in-communion head of the traditionalist Society of St Pius X – effectively served to blunt what could've been a significantly more potent act of defiance. (On a related front, meanwhile, as the issuing group said their missive had been hand-delivered to Francis in August – and, as of its public release, received no response – it's worth noting that what had been rampant expectation before the summer hiatus that a reconciliation of the three-decade-old Lefebvrist schism was within reach has since palpably cooled.)

Between the new document and the prior dubia over Amoris submitted last year by four cardinals – two of whom have since died – a central argument of the efforts' champions has been that Papa Bergoglio has further manifested the alleged "errors" by not answering the claims against him. Yet during his standard informal meetup with his fellow Jesuits (above and below) during his trek to Colombia earlier this month – its transcript only revealed this morning by the Society's Italian journal, La Civiltà Cattolica – Francis delivered his clearest reply to date.

The dialogue published simultaneously in the original Spanish, as well as in Italian and English, at the tail-end of a half-hour among his confreres, the Pope was queried and responded as follows – raising Amoris on his own volition:
Fr. Vicente Durán Casas stands to ask another question: “Holy Father, again thank you for your visit. I teach philosophy and I would like to know, and I speak for my teaching colleagues in theology too, what do you expect from philosophical and theological reflection in a country such as ours and in the Church generally?”

[Pope:] To start, I’d say let’s not have laboratory reflection. We’ve seen what damage occurred when the great and brilliant Thomist scholastics deteriorated, falling down, down, down to a manualistic scholasticism without life, mere ideas that transformed into a casuistic pastoral approach. At least, in our day we were formed that way… I’d say it was quite ridiculous how, to explain metaphysical continuity, the philosopher Losada spoke of puncta inflata [Ed. "an inflated point"]... To demonstrate some ideas, things got ridiculous. He was a good philosopher, but decadent, he didn’t become famous…

So, philosophy not in a laboratory, but in life, in dialogue with reality. In dialogue with reality, philosophers will find the three transcendentals that constitute unity, but they will have a real name. Recall the words of our great writer Dostoyevsky. Like him we must reflect on which beauty will save us, on goodness, on truth. Benedict XVI spoke of truth as an encounter, that is to say no longer a classification, but a road. Always in dialogue with reality, for you cannot do philosophy with a logarithmic table. Besides, nobody uses them anymore.

The same is true for theology, but this does not mean to corrupt theology, depriving it of its purity. Quite the opposite. The theology of Jesus was the most real thing of all; it began with reality and rose up to the Father. It began with a seed, a parable, a fact... and explained them. Jesus wanted to make a deep theology and the great reality is the Lord. I like to repeat that to be a good theologian, together with study you have to be dedicated, awake and seize hold of reality; and you need to reflect on all of this on your knees.

A man who does not pray, a woman who does not pray, cannot be a theologian. They might be a living form of Denzinger, they might know every possible existing doctrine, but they’ll not be doing theology. They’ll be a compendium or a manual containing everything. But today it is a matter of how you express God, how you tell who God is, how you show the Spirit, the wounds of Christ, the mystery of Christ, starting with the Letter to the Philippians 2:7.... How you explain these mysteries and keep explaining them, and how you are teaching the encounter that is grace. As when you read Paul in the Letter to the Romans where there’s the entire mystery of grace and you want to explain it.

I’ll use this question to say something else that I believe should be said out of justice, and also out of charity. In fact I hear many comments – they are respectable for they come from children of God, but wrong – concerning the post-synod apostolic exhortation. To understand Amoris Laetitia you need to read it from the start to the end. Beginning with the first chapter, and to continue to the second and then on ... and reflect. And read what was said in the Synod.

A second thing: some maintain that there is no Catholic morality underlying Amoris Laetitia, or at least, no sure morality. I want to repeat clearly that the morality of Amoris Laetitia is Thomist, the morality of the great Thomas. You can speak of it with a great theologian, one of the best today and one of the most mature, Cardinal Schönborn.

I want to say this so that you can help those who believe that morality is purely casuistic. Help them understand that the great Thomas possesses the greatest richness, which is still able to inspire us today. But on your knees, always on your knees....
* * *
As for an elucidation of the answer, of course, this isn't the first occasion on which Francis has highlighted Schönborn, now the Dominican archbishop of Vienna who, as a 41 year-old professor, was tapped by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as principal editor of what would become the Catechism of the Catholic Church – the first universal volume of its kind since Trent  overseeing a daunting six-year process which drew input from two millennia of texts and a cast of thousands, including all the bishops of the world.

In a foreshadowing snub of his since-deposed CDF prefect, the current pontiff instead tapped the Austrian to present Amoris on the day of its release (above) in the Vatican Press Office, a choice that came after Schönborn reportedly navigated the sole German-speaking group at the 2015 Synod (which, for clarity, indeed included Cardinal Gerhard Müller) to adopt a "unanimous" consensus for a case-by-case "discernment" on the integration of civilly remarried couples.

The agreed-to framework was modeled on a five-point examen the cardinal – himself a child of divorce – had previously devised in Vienna.

While Schönborn re-sketched the concept in a subsequent conversation with Civiltà's editor – the papal confidant Fr Antonio Spadaro – in mid-July the cardinal gave his most extensive treatment on the document, including its most contested piece, in English at a conference on family life in Ireland ahead of next summer's World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which Francis is all but officially confirmed to attend.

Much as the full 83-minute talk is worth a spin, here below is the salient piece given the fresh developments....


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