Two weeks ago, men and women who really knew and loved the Church from all over the world suffered the loss of one of the greatest bishops of the last 100 years. It was Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired Archbishop of Milan. Even though he has been gone from the diocese for ten years, 200,000 faithful attended his funeral ceremonies.
Why did 200,000 people turn out for one man’s funeral? There are many reasons but the underlying reason was that he was so loved and was such a beautiful, pastoral bishop. Prior to becoming a bishop, Cardinal Martini was rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. The Biblical Institute is the greatest school of Scripture studies that the Church has and under his leadership, it flourished tremendously. The man did his work based on God’s word and an awesome gentleness in exercising the office of bishop.
He made a tremendous impact on young people. While Archbishop of Milan, Martini preached every Sunday night in the Cathedral at a Mass celebrated for the youth of the city. The average attendance was approximately 5,000.
I knew about this man and knew what a wonderful shepherd he was, and twice when the papacy was vacated by death, I prayed fervently that he would be elected pope. That was not to be and I wonder what would have been different if this man had led the Church for the last third of a century. We will never know. What we do know is that love, gentleness and scholarship have a tremendous impact. Martini had these gifts and used them extraordinarily well. Legalism for some reason does not produce the same results inside the life of the Church. I know of no one who has joined the Church because of their admiration for canon law.
May God bless and reward this saintly bishop.
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Photo: Megan Polosky
I recently was bragging about the unity that marks Roman Catholicism. I then turned to touch on problems and movements that have threatened that unity in the past and continue to do so until this day. I covered heresy the other day. Now let’s take a look at the two other problem areas that threaten the Church; namely, schism and apostasy.
Schism is defined as the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him. Remember, now, I am writing from a Roman Catholic perspective. The best examples of this in today’s world are the Orthodox churches in Greece, Russia and the Balkins as well as their members currently scattered all over the world. The Orthodox, of course, do not consider themselves to be in schism. They contend that it is the Roman Catholics who are guilty of this offense against unity!
The key point here is that it is a question of accepting authority and not doctrines of faith. After recognizing the authority of the Bishop of Rome for one thousand years, Orthodox leaders in Constantinople began to reject it. Rome was no longer an important city while Constantinople had become the most important city in the world. Many of the Orthodox teachers believed that the influence of Rome was because of its importance in the first century and that this world had now changed. When you look at the two theologies there is an overwhelmingly sameness in beliefs, whether it be about the Triune God, the divinity of Christ, the seven sacraments, the nature of the Church, etc., etc. When you take a look at that you get another insight into the fact that the Church’s disunity, while painful, is not as bad as some people first see. Remember, there are approximately one billion, three hundred million Roman Catholics in the world and another half billion or so (I don’t have hard statistics at my fingertips) Orthodox, so nearly two billion Christians in the world hold essentially the same doctrinal benefits. Add the hundreds of millions of our Protestant brothers and sisters who also share happily an extraordinary commonality in the message of Jesus, and you can see that the missionaries have done a moderately good job over the centuries! The task is far from being complete, but we need to encourage ourselves that we are on the way.
The third cause of disunity is apostasy and this is the saddest of the three. In both heresy and schism, one can presume good will but in general, we consider apostasy a failure of the will, a rejection of belief. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith, total rejection of God’s love for the human family and the salvific life and actions of Jesus of Nazareth. This is by someone or some people who once had the gift of faith. That is what makes it really sad.
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Two weeks ago, the English college in Rome played host to a colloquium celebrating the 30th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between Britain and the Vatican. The meeting pulled together representatives both from political and ecclesiastical sides of the isles, and it reflected the desire on both Protestant and Catholic participants to develop and strengthen communications and the relationship between London and the Holy See as well as between both the Catholic and Protestant communities in England.
If one looks at this story of England, beginning with the Reformation, it is really tragic from a Roman Catholic perspective. England was a small and insignificant country in the 1520’s when Henry VIII began to pull away from Rome. France, Spain and Austria dominated the world at that time, but by the 20th century the British Empire had encompassed the planet and the English language had become the universal tongue. These historical facts have had a very negative effect on Roman Catholic expansion around the world.
Both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have been guilty of their share of injustice and oppression during those tragic centuries, but English values regarding freedom, coming out of the Magna Carta in 1215 and blossoming in the United States with the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, can now stand with moral theology of Roman Catholicism and the two can work together to produce a more just and livable world. Regretfully, there are forces out there that care nothing about liberty as we know it today. Those forces, though extraordinarily distinct, are powerful threats to the religious traditions of the West. I am referring to secularism and a militant Islam. Both of these value systems have produced good in one area or another, but must not be allowed to strangle the values which are so important to us.
Onward through the fog.
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A very important meeting was held two weeks ago at the Jesuit run, Gregorian University in Rome. The Vatican had pulled together bishops, religious superiors and other key leaders from around the world for a four-day symposium on the agonizing scandal of child abuse by clergy. The meeting was excellent and reflects a determination that the Holy See is committed to confront and eliminate this issue once and for all. The speakers were excellent, well qualified to help guide the Church, but in my reading of the summaries two ideas really jumped out at me.
One is the need to eliminate what the chief prosecutor of the Vatican called the deadly culture of silence. This, he says, flows out of the long established, very wrong and ultimately useless effort to protect the Church’s reputation in the face of scandalous abuse. When evil is done it must be confronted and exposed, and Church leaders must go beyond and see that the protection of victims is more important than the reputation of the Church.
A second major issue brought up at the symposium was the lack of accountability for the bishops. In this painful situation, there is plenty of blame to go around, but the greatest responsibility descends upon the bishops who collectively have failed to respond immediately and directly.
We all know the horror of the fact that in the early years of this tragedy, most bishops, wrongly advised by their attorney, would not even meet with the victims. Then there was that period when the priest would be sent on retreat for a week and assigned to yet another parish! Currently, a priest in the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who was in charge of priestly personnel assignments, has been indicted for having routinely transferred priests with serious charges against them to new assignments. This is a very important case because if bishops and chancery personnel are really held responsible for their actions, it may do more than any other one single thing to get this situation behind us.
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Fr. Dan Kennedy http://tinyurl.com/6nw7hmn
“Laughter is the best medicine.” Frequently, my mother told me that when I was young and I know that the medical world has documented the truth of that principle, suggesting that frequent laughter promotes mental and physical health. In view of that, I think that the clergy, especially Catholic priests, should laugh more.
I have been to Rome quite a few times and crossing the Piazza in front of St. Peter’s, I was always struck by the passage of priests in black cassocks and black briefcases striding rapidly across the area with stern frowns on their faces. I would frequently make it a point to say to one of them as we passed, “Hi there, Father. I hope you are having a good day.” The usual reaction was startlement or irritation.
The world is filled with problems and suffering but the followers of Jesus Christ know that ultimately the power of God will triumph. We start with the fact that the human family has been redeemed by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we should all exude joy, laughter and optimism. I realize that we all have different dispositions and some of us are prone to see the darker side of things but such people should resist and concentrate on the world of God, blue skies, beautiful children, scenic mountains and the fact that our relatives will soon be returning home.
Three thousand years ago, the psalmist called us to joy saying,
Rejoice in the Lord you who are just,
praise is fitting for the upright.
Give thanks to God on the harp and lyre
making melody and chanting praise.
Amid loud shouts of joy
sing to God a new song
and play the ten-stringed harp (Psalm 33:1-3)
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A few days ago, I talked about the value of whistle blowers who take risks, including losing their jobs, when they have the courage to point out abuse, corruption and other form of dishonesty in their working situation. Because of human nature, problems are always present in administration and now it turns out that we have it in Vatican City.
A very effective administrator of Vatican City, who worked hard to lower costs through tight business practices and ran a very transparent administration, really seems to have made enemies. His name is Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Vigano loved his job and went at it with great enthusiasm producing excellent results. Then suddenly, he was removed from office and kicked upstairs. He was “promoted up” as Ambassador to the United States. Vigano objected, and attempted to block this transfer. Correspondence between Archbishop Vigano and the Pope have been leaked and in one of them, dated March 27th, Vigano says, “Holy Father, my transfer right now would provide much disorientation and discouragement in those who have believed it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of power that have been rooted in the management of so many departments.”
Several unsigned articles accusing Vigano had appeared in Italian newspapers and when he was removed, the explanation for his removal was directly parallel to the criticism of the unsigned newspaper article. The motives for his removal were identical to those published in those anonymous articles.
I wish Archbishop Vigano every success in his new assignment in Washington.
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Late in June, a group of 300 priests in the Republic of Austria signed a joint declaration calling for disobedience by parish priests on matters such as priestly celibacy and communion for remarried divorcees. Vienna’s Cardinal Schönborn ordered them to back down or leave the Church. Four priests did withdraw but 86 more have joined and now more than 400 priests, roughly one in ten in the nation, continue their call for change and adaptation.
New players on the scene are the Conference of Religious Superiors in Austria. Austria has about 40 abbots and half of all parishes are served by religious priests. The head of the Conference, Abbot Maximilian Fürnsinn, said that a Church summit is called for. “This can no longer be solved by the Cardinal alone. Everyone – bishops, abbots, religious and representatives of the Austrian Priests Initiative – must sit down and discuss the problems together.”
Over the last thirty years, there has been tremendous increase in tension in the Church as this group or that group searches for change in this area or that area. Obviously, the concerns of the Austrian priests are over many of those issues that are discussed worldwide. However, the stance of Church leadership has been simply to refuse to even discuss it. Remember that an Australian bishop was removed from office because he wrote a letter to his people saying that maybe it was the time to discuss these conflicted issues. Rome has ignored that one bishop but it might have a hard time ignoring 400 Austrian priests. We shall see how this develops over the next few months.
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This is May 2011 but it is hard to get through the morning paper without one or another reference to who will be elected president to the United States in 2016. The incumbent is usually considered the frontrunner but a lot can happen in the next two years. As I said, we are used to that for political office but how about the papacy?
The present Holy Father is in his mid-80’s carrying an awesome burden in administering the world’s largest voluntary organization with over a billion members. It is only natural for observers of the College of Cardinals and the cardinals themselves to look around and wonder who will get this responsibility next.
Like many bishops, I follow the writing of John Allen, Jr., the best known American reporter on Vatican affairs, and I saw with some very real interest that he has already advanced three possible cardinals who might be elected in the next conclave, whenever that might be. I know nothing about any one of them but I am fascinated in one aspect of his choice. Of the three he mentions, one is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a 66 year old Canadian. Then there is Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a 68 year old Italian. A third is Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, an Argentian with Italian background. Allen points out certain strengths and weaknesses on each of his “nominees.” Only time will tell. Remember, in addition to these three, there are about 117 other possibilities!
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I was certainly happy to see a statement coming out of the Vatican by Archbishop Joseph Tobin, Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, stating that he does not expect any punitive fallout from the visitation of American nuns now ongoing. Moreover, he says that the women’s communities will have a chance to know the results and to respond! (As though that were a special gift or grant to the sisters…)
The Catholic Church in the United States has lots of problems but traditionally one of its great strengths has been the faith and generosity of women called to served the Church in vows and religious life. The sisters are growing older, fewer in number and carrying on ever-heavier duties but back in early 2009, the Holy See announced that a “visitation” would take place. It was completely unexpected and no clear reason was given as far as the American sisters were concerned. They were then told that the results of the visitation would not be made public nor what follow-up there might be. That doesn’t sound like a very good way to treat the most generous and sacrificial part of the Church in the United States. May God bless the sisters.
Now the good news. Rome has appointed an excellent person to direct the process, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, and his statements mentioned above have partially alleviated the anger and hurt that has marked the program to date. The mysterious part of all this is that Roman authorities seem to have been shocked that the sisters have taken such a negative reaction to being investigated without any specific charges or complaints and having that investigation, initially at least, conducted in such a manner that is so foreign to what we are used to experiencing in terms of procedure in this country.
Let us pray together that Archbishop Joseph Tobin is able to guide this investigation to a successful close without any further alienation, bitterness or conflict.
More on that later … onward through the fog.
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Pope Benedict XVI is now back in the Vatican and protected by the powerful halberds of the Swiss guards. Thanks be to God! I say that because I was so relieved that our Holy Father is back from a pastoral visit to England and Scotland that was viewed by many as a risky undertaking.
Organized protests developed with some groups even threatening to have him arrested because of his alleged malfeasance, etc., etc. The fact is that the opposition melted into an insignificant sideshow whereas the crowds came out in tremendous numbers in every place that the Pope stopped. I think that the Catholics turned out in great numbers because they are proud of the fact that they are a strong minority church in England today while the Anglican communion is declining in everything except the number of its bishops. This strong support is even more surprising in view of the terrible track record of the Vatican in terms of its very failed public relations activities of the last two years. The people are aware of the administrative blunders of this papacy but, by gosh, he is the Pope and he is OUR Pope.
I am told that Benedict addressed the government leaders of England in the very hall where St. Thomas More was condemned to death by Henry VIII. Thomas would be proud…we are all proud.
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