Friday, April 24, 2015

In Greensburg, The Rebuilding Begins – Pope Ships Harrisburg JV to Southwest PA

(Ed. Note: Updated 11am ET with bishop-elect's statement.)

6am ET – After the rocky road of Bishop Lawrence Brandt's 14 years at the helm of the diocese of Greensburg, one way of expressing the widespread hope in Southwestern Pennsylvania's coal country was that their next bishop would come bearing power.

Suffice it to say, mission accomplished.

At Roman Noon, the US' longest-pending diocesan handover was resolved as the Pope tapped Fr Edward Malesic, the 54 year-old judicial vicar of Harrisburg and pastor of Holy Infant parish in York Haven, as fifth bishop of the 165,000-member Greensburg church. A onetime Vatican diplomat and chancellor of Erie before his appointment in January 2004, Brandt's retirement was accepted 13 months after reaching the canonical age.

Seen above on the site of his parish's planned new church and religious ed. building, the bishop-elect comes as a surprise choice. That said, given the Greensburg fold's heavy concentration of folks of Eastern European descent, a bishop with Slovenian roots – the first Slav to lead the diocese – will make for a particularly auspicious first impression.

A product of the Josephinum, Malesic earned his licentiate in the canons at the Catholic University of America. Through his priesthood, the appointee served as a campus chaplain at no less than four colleges – another prominent attribute for the Greensburg church in light of its most prominent institution, the Benedictine-run St Vincent's College in Latrobe, whose major seminary is a key hub for priestly formation far beyond diocesan lines.

As previously noted, the "perfect storm" of significant parish and school consolidations over Brandt's tenure coupled with the bishop's austere style has made for an intense outbreak of tension among clergy and laity alike, the scene so roiled that a local petition website was launched to plead for a more "collaborative" next shepherd. Against that backdrop, even as further planning cuts and their bruising fallout are an inevitable part of life for every Northeastern and upper Midwest diocese, in this instance, the need for healing is particularly paramount.

Brandt will introduce his successor at a 10am presser at the diocesan retreat and conference facility named for Greensburg's second bishop, William Connare. Malesic's ordination has already been announced for Monday, 13 July, in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral (above).

Between today's move and yesterday's naming of the Houston vicar for clergy Fr Brendan Cahill, 51, as bishop of Southeast Texas' Victoria diocese – more on that shortly – all of one Stateside prelate remains in office beyond the retirement age: Michael Sheehan, the venerable archbishop of Santa Fe for nearly two decades, who turns 76 in July.

With the twin moves of the last 24 hours, the domestic appointment docket is ever more the thinnest in memory – far from the days of 15 to 20 dioceses undergoing transitions at once, with just two vacancies currently pending, all of three local churches now await their next head. That's not to say the months to come will be completely quiet, however – the lack of a diocesan backlog points to something that's already gotten underway: a flood of long-delayed selections of auxiliary bishops, especially for points South and West.

SVILUPPO (11am) – Delivered at one of the more joke-filled appointment pressers of recent years, here's the Opening Day statement of the bishop-elect:

Last Monday I was running a few errands and in between I was sitting at my desk in the parish. The phone rang and I saw the caller ID. It said, Vatican Embassy. My stress level went up immediately. The light started to blink (‘on hold’). My secretary came in and said that there was a man who sounded Italian asking to speak with me.

They say that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. I had told God my plans – many times before. When I answered the phone that morning I could hear God laughing in the background.

The papal nuncio, archbishop Vigano was simple and direct. He said Pope Francis would like to appoint you as Bishop of Greensburg. Do you accept.? I admit it. I did take a while, but in the end I said that I trust the Lord and I respect our Holy Father and with great trepidation I say yes. I am reminded of a magnet I have on my filing cabinet that says “Leadership is the ability to hide your panic from others.”

I am both greatly honored and deeply humbled by the decision of Pope Francis to appoint me as the fifth bishop of the great Diocese of Greensburg. This is an office that I never strove for nor expected – thus my shock.

But now that reality is setting in, I must thank God who has blessed me so much in this life and in the priesthood. It has been quite a journey so far and I suppose there is much more to come – and the people of Greensburg are going to be a huge part of my journey from now on. I am grateful to Pope Francis for placing his confidence in me. I do not feel deserving of it, but I am accepting of it. I love Pope Francis, and the way he has asked us all to examine and deepen our personal relationship with God. I give him my loyalty and devotion.

Thank you, Bishop Brandt, for welcoming me so warmly. When you called me last week you told me that I am inheriting a gem of a diocese. I know that you have worked hard to keep it sparkling during times of change. The Catholic community here owes a debt of gratitude to you. Thank you Bishop Brandt.

When I first found out that I was coming here, I googled Greensburg and I learned that it is one of the top places to retire. So it is good that you will stay close by in your retirement. I know that you will be a source of wisdom and guidance as I learn how to be a bishop – you already have been such a help.

I want to thank Archbishop Vigano, the Apostolic Nuncio, who was so patient with me when he informed me of the pope’s decision several days ago: and I was brought to silence. Archbishop Chaput, our metropolitan archbishop, has also been so kind to me. And, my own Bishop, Ronald Gainer in Harrisburg has been extremely helpful during the early days of this massive transition for me. I have only worked for him for less than a year – but he has been a tremendous mentor for me.

The people of the Diocese of Harrisburg have formed me in my faith from my early childhood and in the priesthood. Every parish and community that I have lived in and served has taught me something more about what it means to be a Christian. I am grateful. I especially want to thank the Tribunal Staff of Harrisburg and the staff and people of Holy Infant Parish, in York Haven, the place where I have served as pastor for the past 11 years. I will need them more than ever over these next few weeks – and I promise to bring back some Pittsburgh Steelers memorabilia. Perhaps even a terrible towel or two.

And finally I thank my parents who gave me life and passed the Catholic Faith on to me even when I gave them a hard time about it as a teenager. Thanks for not giving up.

I come to Greensburg as a stranger. But Greensburg isn’t completely unfamiliar to me – I have spent some time here for a few annual retreats at St. Vincent’s Archabbey and St. Emma’s Monastery. I know that these and other religious communities will be great spiritual assets for me moving forward. I have done a bit of reading about the Diocese in the last several days and I already get the sense that this Church is blessed with great Catholic institutions and great people – hard working priests, deacons, religious men and women, and laity who are generous in every way possible.

You will be my needed collaborators. Together, we will work to build up the Kingdom of God in our Diocese. 
Now, you are most likely wondering, who is this guy from Harrisburg. I am sure that my name has been googled more than once this morning, just like I googled Greensburg.

In short, as Pope Francis said of himself, I too am a fellow sinner. But because I am a fellow believer I have also received the mercy of God – I want to proclaim that. God is good. With God there is mercy and fullness of redemption. I am very much looking forward to celebrating the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, recently announced by Pope Francis.

Plain and simple, I am a disciple of Jesus. I believe that he gives life – and I believe that he gives peace. I believe he founded the Catholic Church I love so much. I believe that he is with us now and in a special way he is sending the Holy Spirit upon us to create us anew. He is the source of my joy.

My episcopal motto which comes from the beginning of Psalm 100 is a reflection of the joy that we should have in the Lord. It will be “Serve the Lord with gladness.”

You are also as unknown to me as I am to you. But I know that people are inherently good, that if you love them they will normally love you back. And if you challenge them, they are often up to the challenge. I believe that there are people with deep faith everywhere and I expect I will find great faith within the four counties that make up the Diocese of Greensburg, just as I have found it over and over again in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

Over time, we will get to know each other better. I believe that we can learn from each other, listen to each other, and have the respect for one another that comes from the dignity that each and every human being has from conception until natural death.

I look forward to working together with all of you and to continue the ongoing work of the New Evangelization. With God’s help we will do good things together to build up God’s Kingdom in this part of His earth and to serve the needs of the most vulnerable among us, especially the poor and the poor in spirit.

Please be patient with me as I find my way around and as I discover more of the strengths and challenges of this local church. You will soon begin to learn my strengths and limitations too.

Please pray for me and I promise to pray for you. Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"The Only Thing We Take With Us Is What We Have Given Away"

As the biggest farewell for an American cardinal in nearly 15 years reached its climax earlier today in Chicago, below is fullvid of the poignant funeral homily for Francis Cardinal George given by his cherished protege, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle:


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"This Is The Church" – In Chicago, The Farewell Begins

On a sunny spring afternoon – at least, as springlike as Chicago can get at this point – for the second time in five months, Holy Name Cathedral saw history this Tuesday as the Windy City's first native son-become-Cardinal, likewise the first to leave its archbishop's throne in life, returned to the center of the nation's third-largest diocese for one last moment.

Much like his predecessor in the big seat at State and Superior, Francis George proved himself the dominant force of his generation among the bishops of the United States. And just as today's start of a three-day state farewell saw the local outlets uniquely go live just for the liturgical reception of his body, Thursday's climactic Mass will make for the largest and most significant sendoff an American cardinal has known since the loss of John O'Connor 15 years ago next month. As numbers go, early ballpark figures
 this time around see some nine red-hats concelebrating, and – with no shortage of a grateful bench frantically seeking to rearrange their schedules to be present – a likely turnout of at least 125 of the 300-member USCCB joining in the epic tribute. 

Following the final noontime liturgy, the cortege will take a 21-mile route through the nation's third-largest city, passing the boyhood church where the cardinal was ordained a priest for the OMIs in 1963 before reaching his final resting place in his family's ground-plot at a suburban cemetery alongside his parents and maternal grandmother.

All told, All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines is a far cry from the grand Hillside mausoleum where most of the post's holders are entombed. In that light, then, it bears recalling how the latter is the place where George finally ensured a proper burial in 2001 for his city's long-forgotten fourth bishop, James Duggan, who was declared "hopelessly insane" and went on to spend 23 years in a sanitarium after leading the Chicago church from 1859-69. (Indeed, knowing his wishes even at that point, it could well be posited that George gave Duggan the niche among the legends that would've been his own.)

In the meantime, this first day of the rites closed with yet another moment of history – the first time an archbishop of Chicago could, and did, eulogize his predecessor, both to encapsulate the past and chart a road ahead.

Accordingly, below is fulltext of Blase Cupich's memorial preach, given in the context of an evening vigil for the priests and seminarians of the 2.3 million-member church (emphases original).

* * *
“Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

These words echo in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours time and again throughout this Eastertide, as we prepare each day for nightfall. They are the words of the disciples who fled Jerusalem downcast and disappointed; the words of grieving disciples who suffered loss. They are words that remind us that the greatest works of God, the creation, the Cross and the Resurrection, are done in darkness. And they are words for us in this moment of mourning and prayer for our brother, Cardinal Francis George. They are welcomed words, for they force us to focus our attention on what is really taking place, what we are doing and also who we are as a Church and who we are as a presbyterate.


What we claim is taking place and what we pray for is that Christ the Risen Lord, active in our midst, will bring our brother Francis to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that he may be filled with all the fullness of God.

We will hear in these days, as we have already, many well-deserved laudatory words about the Cardinal’s life and ministry. His scholarship and razor-sharp incisive mind, his leadership in this country and abroad, his tenacity and courage in the face of great suffering and disability all merit our great admiration and respect.

But, our Catholic tradition hesitates to let the past dominate these days of funeral liturgies. It considers such an approach short-sighted, so unequal to the totally other reality taking place. Our funerals are not celebrations of one’s life, a nostalgic return to past glories. Rather, they focus on the Risen Christ presently active in our midst, whose power at work in us is able to accomplish far more than we ask and far more that we can imagine.

This is what these days are about.

“Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

These words also bring comfort to our grieving hearts, by reminding us that the consolation offered to us in these days is not limited to the warm support and friendship we offer each other, as important and meaningful as that is. But rather, our consolation comes in knowing that we participate and contribute to Christ’s redeeming work which we pray is taking place for the Cardinal. Like Paul, together we kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant in accord with the riches of his glory that the one who shepherded this local Church may now be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may fully dwell in him. That is the consolation we want to offer you, Margaret, and your entire family. We know your loss is great, and there is pain in the deep recesses of your hearts. Be consoled in knowing that, like us, you now are joining in the work of the redeeming Christ. And we offer a special word of consolation to our brother, Fr. Dan Flens. Dan, your steady, devoted and unconditional care for the Cardinal not only in these last days, but throughout the years of service as his secretary, inspires us now to follow your good example by offering our prayerful support for Cardinal George. Repeatedly in his final days, the Cardinal told me and others that you made possible his ministry during his years of service here. Be consoled that now, with you, we continue that support as together we join in Christ’s redeeming work. Be consoled in knowing that like the Lord, we stay with you as evening draws near.

All of this helps us appreciate more deeply who we are as Church and also who we are as a presbyterate in the bond you shared with this good shepherd and which we continue to share with each other in ordained ministry. I want to speak for a moment about each of these aspects and how these days of prayer deepen our understanding of both.


What we do in these days is at the heart of the Church’s life and mission. It is the kind of Church the Pauline community in Ephesus is challenged to be as we hear in tonight’s epistle. They are invited to be more than just a congregation in Asia Minor, and instead embrace being a world-wide Church, with Christ as the head, a Church that is God’s instrument for making the Divine plan of salvation fulfilled in Christ known throughout the universe. This vision of who we are is far beyond a church that is for its own sake, but is, rather, a Church that is the means for mission in the world.

This is the ancient vision of the Church, this is the vision of the Church which the Second Vatican Council reclaimed and proclaimed anew in Gaudium et Spes, and this is the Church Francis Eugene George generously embraced and committed his life to in loving service.

He told us as much in his selection of his Episcopal motto: To Christ be glory in the Church. These are words from the Letter to the Ephesians, in the passage read tonight, but also the passage which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council chose to conclude Gaudium et Spes.

Now to Him who is able to accomplish all things in a measure far beyond what we ask or conceive, in keeping with the power that is at work in us—to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, down through all the ages of time without end. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21).

This is the Church the Cardinal wanted us to be, and now it is up to us to carry on and fulfill that vision. It is a Church whose mission is to proclaim “the noble destiny of man and championing the Godlike seed which has been sown in him...Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served” (GS 3).

This is the ancient vision of the Church, proclaimed by the Council Fathers in Gaudium et Spes, embraced and lived out by the Cardinal and now entrusted to us.


That vision is especially entrusted to us, joined together in a presbyterate. Two symbolic actions, one at the beginning and the other at the end of these days, speak to us about how we support each other in honoring that trust. This afternoon during the Rite of Reception, the vicars, our auxiliary bishops, many of whom were ordained by Cardinal George, placed the pall on his casket, a reminder of the day he was clothed in Christ through baptism. As brother priests we might tend to focus only on strengthening each other in our vocation to the priesthood, so that we can remain faithful in our service to the People of God. But, this ritual action reminds us of the important service we can offer in challenging and encouraging each other to be faithful in our baptismal call for our ministry to the People of God to be fruitful. I often recall the very arresting comment of the late Cardinal Seper as a young bishop at the Second Vatican Council: “Remember,” he urged during the debate on priesthood, “that our ordination does not annihilate our baptism.” We need to offer each other that very foundational support, reminding each other to bring the dignity of our baptism unstained to the day of our rebirth in the resurrection.

A second symbolic action comes at the end of these days. On Thursday, the most recently ordained will carry the Cardinal’s remains from this Cathedral and accompany him to his grave. So, too, we must carry each other, care for each other not as a group closed in on itself for mutual self-preservation, but as a witness to those we serve, so that they do the same for others. It is a call to accompany each other in moments of darkness, loss and death. In this way, we are faithful to the vision of the Church entrusted to us by our ancestors in the faith, by the Council and by the shepherd, Francis, whom we accompany to the Lord in these days. And, with the Year of Mercy before us, what we do together in these days in caring for the dead, anticipates all that the Holy Father urges us to do in taking up with fresh vigor the corporal works of mercy.

Earlier I expressed condolences to Margaret, the family and Fr. Flens. But in this last moment, I want you, my brother priests and our seminarians, to know that I grieve his loss with you. Your experience with him was much deeper and longer than mine, but I can tell you that during the last months of his life and my first months as archbishop, he was unfailingly supportive to me, impressing upon me at this moment how he must have been the same for you over these past 17 years. So together in our grieving, we pray, “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

These words will keep us focused in these days and in the days ahead on what is really happening, what we are doing, who we are as Church, who we are as a presbyterate. They are words of disciples who seek comfort in a moment of painful loss, not only that they would not be left alone in their grief but in sensing that something greater than they could ever ask for or imagine is happening. They are words that remind us that the greatest works of God, the creation, the Cross and the Resurrection, are done in darkness. They are words we now make our own as we accompany our brother, Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., and pray:

Stay with him Lord. 


After KC Abuse Storm, Bishop Finn Falls

Almost three years since his conviction for failing to report a priest's trove of child pornography to civil authorities sparked wide calls for his removal from office, at Roman Noon the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn from the helm of Northwest Missouri's diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph.

Weeks after the embattled prelate's 62nd birthday, the move comes eight months after an apostolic visitation was ordered by Rome to gauge the tensions in the diocese, which Finn had led since 2005. Intriguingly, the KC vacancy has occurred as Pope Francis faces fresh calls to act against another prelate mired in controversy over charges of negligence amid his ties to an abuse case: the Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, whose recent arrival in a new see has been dogged by astonishing levels of public protest, all while Barros has been made to travel with riot police and guard dogs.

Back to Finn, the outcry for the bishop's departure dates to the fallout of the 2012 bench trial that saw him found guilty of negligence in the case of Fr Shawn Ratigan, a local cleric whose explicit photos of young girls in various states of undress were reported to the diocese on their discovery by a technician, but not forwarded to police for several months. While the priest was subsequently charged with several federal counts of producing child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in jail, a local grand jury indicted Finn and the diocese on a single misdemeanor count of failing to report, becoming the first bishop in the English-speaking world to face criminal accountability for his handling of an abuse case.

Upon being found guilty at a one-day trial in September 2012, the bishop declined to appeal and was sentenced to two years of probation. As Finn's critics would routinely cite, were the prelate a layperson, the verdict would've rendered him unable to "teach Sunday school" given the post-2002 background checks the US church implemented for priests and lay staff and volunteers.

Beyond the civil penalties for the crime of possessing and creating indecent images of minors, it bears noting that, in the global church, possession of child porn by a cleric now falls under the canonical crimes of sex-abuse and, on discovery, must be reported by a bishop to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The calls for his ouster quietly seconded by many (if not most) of his confreres, though the broader scrutiny of the KC church dates to the Ratigan case, Finn's tenure had been controversial on the local scene practically from its very outset. The editor of St Louis' archdiocesan newspaper at the time of his 2004 appointment as coadjutor to Bishop Raymond Boland, the choice of the shy, privately gentle cleric with ties to Opus Dei and a general reputation for conservatism served to roil the long-progressive Northwest diocese, with many seeing the pick as a Roman rebuke of the independent, locally-run National Catholic Reporter, the de facto publication of record for the US church's liberal flank.

Shortly after succeeding Boland as diocesan bishop, Finn accordingly set out to reboot the diocesan culture, dismantling the widely-imitated local adult formation program founded after Vatican II and removing the widely-circulated column of Fr Richard McBrien from Kansas City's Catholic Key, both moves that garnered praise from traditionalists and fury among progressives. Along the way, the bishop scored a notable spike in the number of men in priestly formation, with the diocese set to ordain no less than nine new priests this year.

With his resignation, Finn becomes the third Stateside prelate to resign under a cloud of controversy over his diocese's handling of abuse claims, following Cardinal Bernard Law's historic fall amid Boston's 2002 eruption, which jump-started the greatest crisis US Catholicism has ever known, and the expedited departure of Finn's own St Louis mentor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, from the helm of the archdiocese of Philadelphia after a second local grand jury in 2011 alleged that some three dozen clerics remained in ministry despite allegations of various types of misconduct with minors, leading to the complete cultural collapse of the last great bastion of American Romanism.

In a two-sentence statement released by the diocese this morning, Finn said that "It has been an honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith," asking prayers "for whomever God may call to be the next bishop of Kansas City-St Joseph."

Given the turbulence in Kansas City, it is practically certain that the bishop won't remain in the area, most likely returning across Missouri to his hometown.

Upon Rome's announcement of Finn's departure, the bishop's neighboring ordinary and longtime close friend from St Louis, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, was named apostolic administrator of the diocese, entrusted with full powers in governing the Missouri church until its next bishop takes office.

In his own comments, Naumann said he was "keenly conscious of some of challenges and difficulties this diocese has suffered in recent years," but prayed that the transition ahead "will be a time of grace and healing for the diocese."

As Naumann himself let slip that his mandate would extend for "a very short season," since it is exceedingly rare for the metropolitan of another province to be called in to administer a local church beyond his own territory – and with the state of the diocese already adequately captured by the apostolic visitation undertaken last summer by Archbishop Terence Prendergast SJ of Ottawa – the appointment of Finn's successor can be anticipated on a particularly fast track, almost certainly within six months. Adding to the expected timetable is the thinnest US appointment docket in memory, on which Kansas City is only the second American diocese to currently stand vacant.

SVILUPPO: While the most-employed reaction behind the scenes to Finn's resignation boiled down to a single word – "Finally" – in the open, the polarities of the American Catholic conversation were predictably fired up at the news.

In its statement, the Midwest-based Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called the move "a tiny step forward" before proceeding to bash the Kansas City diocesan apparatus for failing to "speak up" in protest of their bishop, while the New York based Catholic League – which led the prelate's defense (ostensibly on behalf of Finn's allies in the hierarchy) – slammed the bishop's "foes" for "rejoicing" at his departure "because he's an orthodox bishop."

While Ratigan's ministry mostly occurred under Finn's watch – the now-jailed priest was ordained in 2004 – the conservative pressure-group oddly thanked Finn "for cleaning up the mess he inherited."


Friday, April 17, 2015

"You Are My Legacy"

Over 17 years as cardinal-archbishop of Chicago and the American hierarchy's "thinker-in-chief," there's precious little in the life of the nation's largest religious body that Francis George didn't somehow touch, much of its impact long to remain.

Yet even as every facet of that massive contribution will be pieced up and pored over everywhere you look over the week to come, as the shock of his death today still sets in, it just feels the best thing is to yield the stage to the man himself for one last time.

Three days before becoming the first Windy City titan to seat his successor in the chair of Quigley and Mundelein, his beloved Stritch and Bernardin, the Eighth Archbishop delivered this parting word from the cathedra in Holy Name, remaining in it to preach due to weakness:

SVILUPPO – 9.30pm ET: In late word from Quigley, the Funeral Mass has been set for Thursday, 23 April – St George's Day – at Noon in Holy Name, following two days of lying in-state in the cathedral beginning at 1pm Tuesday.

Defying over a century of Chicagoland tradition, George elected to not be interred with his predecessors in the grand episcopal mausoleum at Mt Carmel Cemetery in Hillside. Instead, per his wishes, the cardinal will be buried alongside his parents in a family plot at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines. While seating at the final liturgy is by ticket only, the cemetery rites are open to the public.

Keeping with Vatican custom on the death of a cardinal, the Pope's condolence telegram to Archbishop Blase Cupich will release at Roman Noon (5am Central) Saturday.


"A Man of Peace, Tenacity and Courage"

Here below from the courtyard of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, Archbishop Blase Cupich's formal announcement of today's passing of his predecessor, Francis Cardinal George:


The Maestro Departs – Cardinal George Dies at 78

The American hierarchy has lost the figure widely seen as its intellectual giant of the last generation.

Francis Eugene George – the first Chicago native to become the Windy City's cardinal-archbishop, then the first to retire from the post late last year – died shortly before noon local time amid his third bout with bladder cancer. An Oblate of Mary Immaculate with twin doctorates in social psychology and theology whose rise from the academy to his order's Roman leadership then through the Stateside ranks arguably made for the most unlikely path ever to result in a US cardinal, George was 78.

After less than a year as archbishop of Portland, the native son was a surprise choice in April 1997 to succeed the iconic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin at the helm of the nation's third-largest diocese, going on to receive the red hat nine months later. As president of the USCCB from 2007-10 – the first cardinal in three decades to hold the post – George's conciliatory abilities and esteem across the bench's polarized divide were able to forge an almost miraculous consensus that carried the body through a host of turbulent moments, most notably the cataclysmic tension felt by many prelates in the wake of Barack Obama's election to the presidency in 2008.

Afflicted with childhood polio – the pronounced limp from which remained throughout his life – George's 17 years in his hometown chair (his ministry's lone assignment in Chicago) were dogged by no shortage of controversies and challenges. Amid an epic shift of the 2.3 million member fold's demographics to the cusp of a Hispanic majority, the prelate who introduced himself at his installation as "Francis, your neighbor" often found himself at loggerheads with the famously independent presbyterate, all while the national eruption of the clergy sex-abuse scandals saw the vaunted Corporation Sole mired in years of lawsuits and settlements. While George's genius and serenity through years of health scares earned him the hard-won respect of the local crowd, the cardinal's constant emphasis on saying "what I think" as opposed to "how I feel" made for a spirited, usually contentious relationship with much of the press corps.

Yet "in the end," as George himself said at the 2013 funeral of his unlikely friend and opera companion – the celebrated novelist and Sun-Times columnist Fr Andrew Greeley – "everyone was forgiven": as they entered Holy Name on the eve of his successor's installation last November, the most prolonged, raucous ovation wasn't at the sight of the incoming archbishop gliding up the aisle, but that of the first-ever emeritus struggling up a ramp to the sanctuary, guided by his ever-faithful longtime secretary, Fr Dan Flens.

The author of a landmark 2001 pastoral letter on racism – a text which drew viscerally from his experiences in the Jim Crow South – having articulated a dire vision of the church's future in American society in later years while seeking to surmount Stateside Catholicism's damaging ideological turf-war, the cardinal was reportedly hard at work on a final book over recent months and said to be "driven" to complete it in the time left to him.

A favorite of St John Paul II – whose Lenten retreat George preached in 2001 – the cardinal's Roman standing rose even further in the reign of Benedict XVI, a fellow theologian (and German speaker) under whom the Chicagoan became the preeminent US-based voice in the Vatican's mind.

Five months after handing over the reins of the Chicago post in unprecedented fashion to Blase Cupich, the Ninth Archbishop is slated to make a formal announcement of his predecessor's death at 2pm Central in the courtyard of Holy Name. (Video posted.)

While the funeral timetable remains to be determined, the archbishopric of Chicago is unique among the US' major posts in that its occupants are entombed not in a Cathedral crypt, but at a towering mausoleum (below) some 20 miles outside the city at Mt Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, after a lengthy cortege from the Near North Side traditionally brings the nation's third-largest city to a halt.

With George's passing, the number of Stateside electors in a hypothetical Conclave falls to ten. This Sunday, the bloc will again diminish to nine as Philadelphia's Cardinal Justin Rigali marks his 80th birthday, while in the first half of 2016, the respective age-outs of LA's retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and the former CDF chief Cardinal William Levada will make for a combined loss of four American seats in just over a year, leaving a contingent numbering seven.

Given Pope Francis' drastic makeover of the geographic distribution of the 120 electors in the College of Cardinals, it is expected that at least half of the lost voting slots will not be restored to these shores, ending a seven-decade custom of US cardinals comprising roughly ten percent of the papal electorate, a practice whose roots date to the end of World War II and was successively maintained by the grateful European Popes who've followed until now.

SVILUPPO: After two days of lying in-state, the Funeral Mass has been scheduled for Thursday, 23 April, at Noon. Per his wishes – which only emerged on the release of the arrangements – George will not be laid to rest alongside his predecessors, but with his parents in a simple suburban ground-plot.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In San Diego, “Accompany” Man Begins – For Opening Preach, McElroy Runs Pope’s Playbook

Between the vaunted pedigree of Harvard, Stanford and the Gregorian – not to mention the lauds of admirers who've termed him the "American Martini" – over the weeks since his January appointment, the expectations on Bob McElroy going into his installation as San Diego's sixth bishop have reached levels approaching Beatlemania.

Even so, when the 61 year-old's moment came this afternoon (above), the inaugural result was impressive, all the more considering the trajectory – an auxiliary of a 450,000-member archdiocese taking the reins of a local church of a million, in the spotlight of the nation's seventh-largest city and an American Catholic chattering class which often shows a weakness at discerning the difference between the Gospel and its secular politics.

Pope Francis' third selection for a Stateside diocese of seven-figure size, it's no secret that the San Diego pick is one of the pontiff's most outspoken admirers and advocates among the Stateside bench – an attribute which arguably played a part in the surprise push which landed McElroy in the post. Accordingly, having handled his Appointment Day presser as one big, conspicuous echo of Bergoglio's ecclesial "paradigm," the installation preach took it up a further notch as the new arrival rooted himself in Francis' pastoral mandate of "accompaniment," going on to lay out "three central challenges... placed before us at this moment."

Though his challenge was explicitly directed at California's southernmost fold, it doesn't take much effort to see it extending to the wider church. Ergo, beginning with the recent tale of the two climbers who successfully scaled the "impossible" Dawn Wall of El Capitan, below is fullvid of McElroy's potent 18-minute preach:

All that said, it is curious that – for a border outpost whose Hispanic population is said to stand in the 40 percent range – the new Padre opted to deliver the homily entirely in English.

While today's rites marked the second handover of a million-member US flock in less than six months, a third could take place as soon as later this year: amid the lightest domestic appointment docket in memory (three on-deck retirements, all of one vacancy), Bishop William Murphy marks his 75th birthday on 14 May, at which point the clock starts ticking for Long Island's diocese of Rockville Centre and its 1.5 million Catholics.

Yet even the all-suburban mega-fold won't be the premier US seat to come open in 2015 – that comes in mid-November, when Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington reaches the resignation age.

SVILUPPO: In pre-Mass comments reported by the local Union-Tribune, McElroy pushed back on a move currently afoot in the California legislature to remove the statue of soon-to-be Saint Junipero Serra from the US Capitol's Statuary Hall, calling the Franciscan missionary a "foundational figure" of the Golden State.

With each state entitled to two likenesses of famous residents in the Capitol, the Sacramento effort has sought to replace Serra's niche with that of Sally Ride, the San Diego-based astronaut who was the first woman to enter outer space.

Amid controversy over the treatment of Native Americans in the missionary era, Serra's canonization without a second miracle will take place in Washington during this September's PopeTrip on Francis' own initiative. The 18th century friar will become the second saint enshrined in the building, joining St Damien deVeuster – Hawaii's beloved "leper priest" – who was canonized in 2009, fifty years after the 50th state sent his statue to Washington.

While Father Damien's feast is marked nationally on May 10th, today marks the 126th anniversary of the Belgian-born missionary's death from what's now termed Hansen's disease.


Saturday, April 11, 2015





Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. The Father, “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), after having revealed his name to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), has never ceased to show, in various ways throughout history, his divine nature. In the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.

At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church; a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.

The Holy Year will open on 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This liturgical feast day recalls God’s action from the very beginning of the history of mankind. After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil. So he turned his gaze to Mary, holy and immaculate in love (cf. Eph 1:4), choosing her to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive. I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On that day, the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope.

On the following Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Rome – that is, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran – will be opened. In the following weeks, the Holy Doors of the other Papal Basilicas will be opened. On the same Sunday, I will announce that in every local Church, at the cathedral – the mother church of the faithful in any particular area – or, alternatively, at the co-cathedral or another church of special significance, a Door of Mercy will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year. At the discretion of the local ordinary, a similar door may be opened at any Shrine frequented by large groups of pilgrims, since visits to these holy sites are so often grace-filled moments, as people discover a path to conversion. Every Particular Church, therefore, will be directly involved in living out this Holy Year as an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. Thus the Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.

I have chosen the date of 8 December because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church. In fact, I will open the Holy Door on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive. With the Council, the Church entered a new phase of her history. The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. The walls which too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way. It was a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning. It was a fresh undertaking for all Christians to bear witness to their faith with greater enthusiasm and conviction. The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.

We recall the poignant words of Saint John XXIII when, opening the Council, he indicated the path to follow: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity … The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.” Blessed Paul VI spoke in a similar vein at the closing of the Council: “We prefer to point out how charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council … the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council … a wave of affection and admiration flowed from the Council over the modern world of humanity. Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love. Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful predictions, messages of trust issued from the Council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honoured, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed … Another point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need.”

With these sentiments of gratitude for everything the Church has received, and with a sense of responsibility for the task that lies ahead, we shall cross the threshold of the Holy Door fully confident that the strength of the Risen Lord, who constantly supports us on our pilgrim way, will sustain us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides the steps of believers in cooperating with the work of salvation wrought by Christ, lead the way and support the People of God so that they may contemplate the face of mercy....


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

First, "The Window"... Now, The Door

When you've been on this beat long enough, time only seems to fly ever more quickly.

Along these lines, hard as it is to believe, ten years ago today this 1.2 billion-member fold were sheep without a shepherd – a moment all the more powerful for the many of us who, after a 27 year reign, were experiencing it for the first time.

For a fleeting few hours, the world stopped that Friday morning (fullvid). At least 4 million thronged the streets, led by the largest gathering of heads of state and government anyone could recall in one place, all to say farewell to a figure who changed the course of history by accepting a simple call: "Follow me."

Fittingly – and many would say, providentially – the 264th Bishop of Rome returned to "the Father's House" on the eve of the Second Sunday of Easter, which he designated as the church's preeminent moment of focus on Divine Mercy.... And now, powerfully, the thread returns – this time around, the same liturgical moment (this Saturday evening) brings the formal declaration of the first Holy Year since 2000: an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that will (repeat: will) have programmatic consequences in the life of the church, and which might just end up being the culminating initiative of the entire Rule of Francis.

Given the intense backdrop, we'd be remiss to not go back to the start, especially for those who've forgotten....

In other words, just watch: