So What Are the Cardinals Discussing?

Cardinal Dolan blogs in:

So, you may be astonished to hear, we spend most of our times discussing issues such as preaching; teaching the faith; celebrating the seven sacraments; inviting back those believers who have left; serving the sick and poor, the “least of these;” sustaining our splendid schools, hospitals, and agencies of charity; encouraging our brother priests, bishops, deacons, and consecrated women and men religious; supporting our pastors – and getting more of them! – and our parishes; forming future priests well; loving our married couples and our families, and defending the dignity of marriage; protecting life where it is most in danger because of war, poverty, or abortion; and reinforcing the universal call to holiness given all in the Church.

Those are the “big issues.” You may find that hard to believe, since the “word on the street” is that all we talk about is corruption in the Vatican, sexual abuse, money. Do these topics come up? Yes! Do they dominate? No!

A journalist – and, by the way, the reporters from home have been mostly amazingly patient, attentive, and thoughtfully curious – asked if the new Pope would bring radical change to the Church. She seemed surprised when I replied, yes! At least I had her full attention! I then went on to clarify that the Church was “big-time” into change; namely, a change in the human heart, which Jesus called repentance or conversion.

He goes on to say that the name most often mentioned in discussions is that of Jesus.

UPDATE: Conclave Starts Tuesday

Just in. The Cardinals voted on Tuesday, March 12 to start the conclave . Please pray for them. My wife’s birthday is the 14th…a new pope on her birthday would be cool! Or on St. Patrick’s Day!

Meanwhile, Deacon Greg points to this hysterical video promoting my guy, Cardinal Tagle for Pope, the Archbishop of Manila.

From your song to God’s ears. I am firmly in this guy’s corner. Now if only I had a vote.

At 1PM we will know the date of the conclave. So let’s get ready to rumble.

And so we pray for the discernment of spirits to enter the conclave to help these men decide who should be the Catholic Church’s next leader. Whoever it is, they will need our prayers.

The Silence of the Shepherds

They say silence is golden but today is more like tarnish.

John Thavis reported this about the U.S. Cardinals and their regular press conference briefings this morning via Jim Martin on Facebook.

U.S. cardinals abruptly canceled their planned briefing today, and no further briefings were scheduled.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who had coordinated the U.S. press encounters, said in an email: “Concern was expressed in the General Congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reportedin Italian newspapers. As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.”

In other words, because some anonymous cardinals fed Italian reporters a few details about their discussions, a gag order now applies to all the cardinals.

The U.S. briefings, which typically featured two American cardinals fielding questions in 30-minute sessions, had become a welcome daily ritual for journalists in Rome who are trying to cover the pre-conclave meetings that began this week.

It should be noted that the U.S. cardinals, like all the rest, have taken an oath to maintain secrecy regarding conclave matters. But they have given reporters at least an outline of the discussions, if not precise content, and have been willing to answer general questions on issues not directly related to the conclave.

When, oh when, will this guys realize that not saying anything doesn’t help, nor does it endear you to the general public. It makes you look like you’re hiding something, or in this case, like someone said something they shouldn’t have and now you’re asking them to stop talking.

Silence has led the church down many wrong roads. The sexual abuse crisis at its heart was tragic on its own because children were abused, but the cover up by Bishops and other church officials made it ten times worse and the church has been dragged down (and appropriately so) by it for more than a decade now.

Silence about financial impropriety and perhaps more has led to what we call now the VatiLeaks scandal, which came from an internal investigation that was covered up to the point where the Pope’s butler was used as a pawn to get secret files revealed to the public. Silence caused this scandal and it could have easily been avoided by telling the truth and taking appropriate disciplinary actions.

Silence is what keeps gay men in the priesthood from showing that they are appropriately integrated in their sexuality and instead covers up those who are sexually immature, who claim heterosexuality when in fact, they have a closeted gay sexual preference and end up becoming predators because of it. It’s an endless cycle of self abuse that leads to the abuse of others.

And it starts because of silence and fear.

Silence prevents dialogue between Catholics who speak up for ending abortion because that translates to others as being “against women” instead of “against murder.” Same is true for those who hope to care for women beyond the birth of their child instead of settling for winning the moral high ground because they simply changed a law with no back up plan.

Sr. Walsh smartly realized that for the American Bishops to be relevant in the minds and hearts of the general public it was time for them to come clean and actually tell people what they were thinking about the next Pope. They’re not trying to tell us who they are specifically voting for, nor about anything inside the walls of the conclave. Rather they are opening the doors to what is all-too-often held in secret for no good reason.

The American public is no longer buying what the Cardinals and the Bishops are selling. At least the latest poll in the field says so:

From the NY Times:

With cardinals now in Rome preparing to elect Benedict’s successor, the poll indicated that the church’s hierarchy had lost the confidence and allegiance of many American Catholics, an intensification of a long-term trend. They like their priests and nuns, but many feel that the bishops and cardinals do not understand their lives.

Telling the press the truth often gets the public back on your side. It gives you legitimacy in their eyes and brings the public to a better understanding of your mindset even when they may disagree with your premise. Telling the truth and laying it all on the table gets these men back the one thing they have lost: respect.

But instead, now we sit and wait in silence. Which is an appropriate venue for our prayer, but for nothing else. Eventually, we come out of our prayer postures and need to proclaim the truth of our convictions to let people know who we are and what goes into the rhythms of our church’s decisions and hear what our leaders think about the church’s present, never mind the future and what kind of leader they think will be most helpful to the people of God. Those early words from our American Bishops were outstanding stories that helped people understand things.

The time is now for breaking silence, not maintaining it. Agreeing on the gag order is a wrong-headed move. And someone needs to convince the Cardinals of that. Perhaps they should start with the retired Cardinals who won’t be in the conclave and effectively have nothing to lose! (Cmon Cardinal McCarrick!)

Cardinals, you were almost there. Props to Sr. Mary Ann Walsh for the effort! Somehow it was a smart woman who was leading us down the right road and who the Cardinals should be listening to and working with her who has given them the opportunity to very simply tell the world our story.

Goodbye, Benedict

Today is Pope Benedict’s last day on the job and I thought it would be a wise reflection to think about his Papacy this morning and to think about the legacy he has left the church.

In doing so, I’d like to humbly recall my own negativity upon the day of his election, when I thought his election signaled not just a more conservative church, but a much more conservative church for the future. In fact, we saw some of that, but we also saw signs of change as well.

His biggest legacy I think will be the fact that he retired, reminding us that the Pope is an administrator at times and that this takes energy on top of being the “face and the presence of global Catholicism.” To be a good administrator at the Vatican one would better be on top of his game. It reminds me of how John Paul II couldn’t have been running the day to day operations probably for some time. My thought is that Pope Benedict remembers those days and would rather not return to them.

One of the things that I think pains the Pope are divisions amongst Catholics. He worked hard for Christian Unity. When he tried to heal the divisions between the SSPX (Society of St. Pius X) and the church, things blew up in his face, despite good intentions, when one of the members of the SSPX denied the holocaust. He also tried to maintain good interfaith relations entering a synagogue on the day that Catholics pray for our relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters. It was something that John Paul II started and that he continued. Bringing Anglican priests into the fold, despite their marriage, because of their divisions in their denomination with those who favored gay marriage and women’s ordination was again, a move towards unity among Christians, but it also confused many of the faithful. Especially, those of us who would favor optional celibacy, for clergy, at a time when our priests have decreased by 30%.

I was in Sydney for World Youth Day and even then the Pope was tired (me too!) but he loved being with the young people and although introverted by nature, he reveled in the large crowds.

My friend Fr. Steven Bell spoke of his graciousness, when he served as a cantor at the Papal Mass in Washington, D.C. The folks on EWTN claimed that “the Pope doesn’t like this music” but Fr. Bell noted that The Pope passed him by while he was leading the crowds in song and smiled at him and said “Thank you, it’s lovely.”

One thing that I will remember is his graciousness. I have never met Pope Benedict in person, but I know many who have and they all report one consistent finding: The Pope is a quiet and humble man when you meet him. A married couple I know met him twice, once when he was the head of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and a second time when he was Pope and they told me that both times his closing words to them were: “Please pray for me. I have a very hard job.”

Several gaffes often happened with the media, be it Vatileaks, clergy sex abuse and failing to reform the Vatican administration, Pope Benedict, like many of his bishops, was not a strong administrator. The truth is that many of these men were not trained to be administrators, they were trained to be pastors. That’s not an excuse or a cop out, but rather, something that perhaps will be looked at in this conclave.

The thing that I will recall again today, that whoever the Pope is and perhaps despite who the new Pope will be, we are all still individually called to live lives of holiness. More importantly, the Pope needs our prayers and he prays for all of us. Pope Benedict retires to a life a prayer and I pray that he enjoys a post-Papal life of introversion and quiet. I’m sure he’ll have some public life as well from time to time and I do wonder about his health (he has a pacemaker, so who knows how healthy he is).

Perhaps we have reason for us to pray twice as hard—and that is reason for us to reflect and to pray that we all may be changed by that—to be people of peace and justice, men and women for others and to lead lives of inspiration so that we might bring Christ to others.

Pope Benedict, pray for us. And happy retirement.

Papal Madness: Hayes vs. Fr. James Martin, SJ

Busted Halo is running a Papal Madness Tourney with various people from all kinds of backgrounds in the running for the Pope. Obviously, we’re having some fun with this with folks in the Media/Politics Region (like Stephen Colbert and Sean Hannity), the music region (like Bruce Springsteen and Michael Bublé), the Hollywood Region (Martin Sheen, Mel Gibson) and the Friends of BustedHalo Region (Fr. Dave Dwyer, CSP, Fr. Jack Collins, CSP). Check it out:

But imagine my surprise when lil ‘ol me got a bid to the big dance. I’m a 7 seed (the second lowest seed) in the Friends of Busted Halo bracket and I’m going up against (gasp!) my friend and famed colleague….

Fr. James Martin, SJ, the acclaimed author and Colbert Report Chaplain.

I’m gonna get killed. So I’m playing the “I’m hoping for an upset” card.

Here are my top 5 reasons why you should vote for me.

1) Media Monopoly: The Colbert Report doesn’t need TWO people in the running for Pope. (And Stephen Colbert advanced yesterday). Do we really want the media running the Vatican?

2) Keep the laity alive! In the BH bracket there are only two lay people in the bracket (Brett Siddell and myself). Gotta let the laity stay in the game to make this interesting. As Pope I would make sure the laity has a voice and appoint a few lay people into top Vatican positions. By the way, my wife says I can be Pope as long as we keep the Vatican in Italy and she can have a gelato shoppe in the Vatican basement. Sold!

3) Jesuit Schmezuit: I’m Jesuit educated too. I’m a spiritual director and run Ignatian based retreats. I’m holding to indifference over who wins and loses because I think Fr. Martin would be a good pope. So who ever God wants to win here…(Pssst, vote for me)

4) Rally the Youth: I’ve been to World Youth Day Twice (Toronto and Sydney) and I don’t think Fr. Martin has been to one yet. I would also turn the World Youth Day event into a weekly meet up at Starbuck’s all over the world.

5) Haze the Dog Loves you: The Pope should have a dog. And Haze would be a good watchdog in the Vatican. No Vati-leaks scandals on his watch.

Regardless, come on by and play the game. It’ll be fun no matter who wins. And thanks to Busted Halo for honoring me with a bid.

Picking the Pope

In American politics we often hear the words “Call your local representatives” when an issue we’re interested in comes to the forefront. And while the laity cannot directly pick a new Pope, they may be able to have some influence in the weeks leading up to the conclave.

John Allen reports today on what happens during the weeks before the Papal conclave amongst the various Cardinals. He cites four important influential items that happen over that time: The General Congregations, Media Items, Meetings in Apartments amongst language groups, and the hotel Santa Marta where the Cardinals stay and have extended conversations.

I’d like to take up the media piece since that is the only one that the laity might be able to have some significant influence over. Allen suggests that sometimes just placing the thought that someone might be unfit in the minds of the voters is enough to eliminate them. He points out rumors that were floated about some Cardinal’s health, or incompetence which can taint them as unfit for being Pope. And as in most things, timing is everything.

No one really had the time to trace down all these rumors, and in a sense, that was the point. The hope was that the mere fact that negative things were being said would be enough to derail a particular candidacy. In that sense, a conclave is more analogous to British rather than American politics — the race lasts only a couple of weeks instead of years. In the American cycle, there’s time to sort out whether rumors about George W. Bush’s National Guard service or Barack Obama’s birth certificate are authentic or not; in the frenzy of an abbreviated papal campaign, there’s just no time to do that kind of legwork.

It should be emphasized that these smear campaigns almost always originate outside the College of Cardinals and that there is generally a very genteel, respectful tone to the discussions among the cardinals themselves.

So the more that gets written and more importantly, read, by the Cardinals entering the conclave the better or worse a candidate’s chances may be. One bad article could sway several voters in a short period of time.

We don’t like to think that politics plays a role here, but it certainly does and probably should. The question of how well do these guys really know one another. In my own work in the American Church amongst Bishops, I always noticed how Cardinal McCarrick would always praise certain Bishops, in particular, then-Bishop Wuerl would always be mentioned by him when given an opportunity. I wasn’t much surprised when now-Cardinal Wuerl was made the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. after Cardinal McCarrick. Friends often can promote other friends into higher positions.

So I’ll be paying attention to the articles about various Cardinals in the coming weeks and see if any raise any red flags. I’ll try to highlight some folks who we should watch out for and while I’m not particularly good at handicapping a winner, I’m hoping to be able to at least name a few people who might become Pope.

Stay tuned.

How Much Influence Will Pope Benedict Have In Picking a New Pope?

So I woke up to find out that Pope Benedict, citing frail health, will resign the papacy at the end of the month. To be honest, people I know who have seen the pope in Rome, including our own Bishop here in Buffalo and our previous Bishop said that he looked a bit worn down and frail. The man is 85 after all, and I believe even when he started he was worried about the demands of the job on a man his age. He watched John Paul II die as Pope, nearly completely incapacitated, and I think that had a great effect on his decision.

He has hinted at this before, saying that a Pope may resign the Papacy and that for the good of the church that might not be a bad idea. I’m paraphrasing, here.

Tom Reese in NCR writes:

In Light of the World, Pope Benedict responded unambiguously to a question about whether a pope could resign: “Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”

But today his announcement came as a surprise to many and thus the larger questions remain.

Since the Pope is past the age of 80, if he were a Cardinal, he would be past the age limit to be in the conclave. The question I have now is how much influence does a sitting Pope have on the election of his successor, I would think he would have much influence, if not the ability to hand-pick and lobby for the election of the new Pope. So with that in mind, I would expect another doctrinal conservative to be elected, but who knows what happens in the conclave?

Michael Sean Winters wrote an excellent piece this morning including this snip:

Usually, the funeral rites for a deceased Pope allow the cardinals a time when the cardinals can assess the previous reign and what the Church needs. Publicly, this assessment is dominated by a fair amount of hagiography but privately the cardinals consider the limitations of the recently deceased pontiff. It is unclear how that assessment will happen when the Holy Father is still around. Again, this is why the Holy Father must absent himself from all proceedings and allow the cardinals to speak freely and candidly about what the Church needs. We all know that for some time, high ranking members of the Vatican have been distressed at the lack of effective management under Benedict. It is a safe bet that Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of State, will not receive many votes.

So, what does an ex-Pope do after the election of a new Pope?

NCR writes:

The pope made no mention of his future plans, other than to say, “I wish to also devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”

Where does he live? How much influence will he have on the current Pope once he is elected? What do you even call an ex-Pope? We have to go back 600 years to find any precedent! Even the Pope’s spokesperson didn’t know what he would be called!

I’m wondering what he even wears in formal ceremonies now? Does he still get to wear the whites of the Papacy? Or does he go back to a Cardinal’s outfit? It’s going to be rather strange, especially if you get to see two men in white.

As for the next Pope, my man John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter and the top expert has some sage thoughts in USA Today. Here are some thoughts from yours truly:

Cardinal Scola the Archbishop of Milan is probably the safe bet. He’s known by many and has been a Vatican diplomat for many years. He’s the “trusted candidate”. At the last conclave, many of the Cardinals said that the big question was “Who do we trust?” And in answering that question most felt the deposit of the faith rested with Cardinal Ratzinger who became Pope Benedict XVI.

With that it’s important to note that the Italians have about a quarter of the votes and they twice have elected Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco as the head of their own Bishop’s conference. He is strong doctrinally and a professor of Metaphysics. He’s also politically saavy and can deal with the media.

I would add a few more thoughts:

Cardinal Christophe Schoneborn: The current Archbishop of Vienna and a close friend and former student of Benedict XVI. He’s young, vastly intelligent and President of the Austrian Bishops Conference. He wrote a great piece on neo-Darwinism for the NY Times some time back stating that the church was not anti-evolution but rather that a new breed of atheism has developed that separates God from the scientific process and that was what the church was against. In short, the church is pro-Darwin and evolution and anti-Hitchens and Dawkins although he did say that Evolution was only a possibility and not a scientific fact, causing some to criticize.

He’s also been very strong on the sex abuse scandal saying “the days of
cover ups are over.” He likes both Karl Rahner and Hans Ur Van Balthazar two theological heavyweights and thinks they are closer in thought than most do, which is a sign of a moderate theologian, though he is known to be doctrinally conservative.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan: He’s probably too young, and an American, but many have said that Dolan is papabile. He’s affable and handles the media well. He’s a bit of a bully since taking over the Archdiocese of New York and often seems angry, though lately, he’s taken a back seat and become more accommodating in style. He ran the North American College and was elected President of the US Catholic Bishops in favor of the more progressive (much more) Bishop Gerry Kicanas. Some say he’s not able to be in this role and they’re probably right. His Italian isn’t great and I don’t think he speaks any other languages and some would consider an American outlandish. I would expect that either Dolan or another North American…

Cardinal Marc Oulette: He’s from Quebec and was the Archbishop there before being promoted to the high office of prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. He has a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Gregorian and is no lightweight intellectually. Some say he was a huge supporter of Cardinal Ratzinger and garnered a lot of support for him from the electors.

IF we look to South America, I like …

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB who is the Archbishop of Honduras. He got minimal support in the last conclave and is a moderate. I’ve heard him speak and he is an outstanding pastoral leader. Taught science before and was the Vatican’s spokesperson with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, on the issue of Third World debt. With the Vatileaks scandal he could be a choice to help get things in order.

The Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil, the largest population of Catholics, could also be a choice. Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, a conservative who is popular could garner some support.

And of course Africa and the Phillippines remain solid choices:

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is probably one of my favorites to gain a lot of support from his African Cardinals. He is the current President of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice and is the lone scripture scholar in the Pope’s advisors. When asked if the time was right for a Black Pope in 2009 he replied: ‘Why not?’ He argued that every man who agrees to be ordained a priest has to be willing to be a Pope, and is given training along the way as bishop and cardinal. ‘All of that is part of the package.’

Read more on Cardinal Turkson:

And Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is a very popular Cardinal in the Phillipines. He’s very charismatic and has emphasized helping the poor while opposing atheism and abortion. He’s the Archbishop of Manilla and let’s not forget that the largest gathering of human people was when World Youth Day was in Manilla.

It’s going to be an interesting ride. Fasten your seat belts.