Thursday, October 20, 2016

In Catholic Gotham, The Final Showdown

SVILUPPO (10.30pm): Going into tonight's Al Smith Dinner, last week's Wikileaks claimed release of emails written by top aides to Hillary Clinton seeking a "Catholic Spring" and bashing church conservatives – and the fury the disclosures wrought from leading prelates (tonight's host included) – became just the latest hurdle in a relationship between the hierarchy and the Democratic nominee that, over some two decades, could be described as "difficult" or "chilly" at best.

Yet even as the story and tonight's keynote at New York Catholicism's premier social fund-raiser provided an opening for the Republican nominee to burnish his own bona fides with the nation's largest religious body – all the more after a clash with the Pope over his signature issue – Donald Trump's venture away from humor to charge that his opponent was "pretending to not hate Catholics" and "is so corrupt" turned the usual lightly-barbed, apolitical jokefest into something of a horror show, as the Waldorf-Astoria Ballroom erupted in a degree of boos and heckling at the GOP candidate unknown in the evening's recent memory.

While Clinton responded with a less adversarial tone, subtler digs – and an effusive tribute to "the Holy Father, Pope Francis" – the Democrat's roast still carried considerably more edge than prior editions of these joint appearances, reflecting the mutual animosity of a torrid campaign which has repeatedly pushed the limits of even the strained atmosphere ever present in the final weeks of the Making of a President.

On the bright side, the evening raised a record $6 million for Catholic Charities in the nation's second-largest diocese, and – unlike at the night's start – ended in a quick handshake between the contenders, albeit with their arms extended at fullest distance...

...for its cost, however, as a visibly anxious Cardinal Timothy Dolan repeatedly wiped his brow with his dinner napkin, here's fullvid of both candidates' remarks and the host's closing reflection:

With 18 days remaining until the election – and early voting already underway in more than a dozen states – a national poll released last week showed Clinton with a 20-point lead among Catholics, the margin fueled by a massive advantage for the Democrat among Latinos and a rare near-split of the Anglo pewfolk, who usually tend to lean Republican.

* * *
7.30pm ET – Much as it's a common lament among church-folk that religion has lost its place in the center of the public square, that'll be anything but true tonight, just as it always is on the third Thursday in October every four years.

Of course, that can only mean one thing: the venerable Al Smith Dinner at New York's Waldorf-Astoria, where the tradition begun in 1960 continues on as both nominees for the presidency make their final joint appearance of the campaign at the annual Catholic Charities fundraiser begun to honor the first of the faithful ever nominated to the top of a national ticket.

Yet with three weeks to go in an electoral slog that's reached monumental levels of bitterness, hysteria and polarization – and both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton playing before an accordingly charged hometown crowd – as with so much else over the last 18 months, the usual lightheartedness of the evening can't be taken for granted. If anything, with the candidates placed at the center of the white tie-wearing, multi-tiered dais on the stage of the Waldorf's Ballroom, then taking turns in delivering roast-style speeches, Cardinal Timothy Dolan's probably musing that he shouldn't have lost so much weight over the last year: as the dinner's head honcho, he'll be the only thing separating Clinton and Trump for some 90 minutes, a task which will draw upon every ounce of the famously gregarious prelate's "ultimate host" skill-set.

A church historian by trade, Dolan has been an especially dedicated custodian of the quadrennial rite begun by Francis Cardinal Spellman with John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Even if there was never any question on his end that this most gobsmacking of cycles would wrap up as it (almost) always has since, this night alone has the makings of an epic chapter in an eventual memoir – and despite the Tenth Archbishop's well-burnished reputation as a human equivalent of Bernini's Colonnade, pulling it off without incident remains no small feat.

More to come.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

From the "Sink or Swim" Desk

So, folks, one Election down – two to go... and a Scarlet Bowl on tap, to boot.

Even as the package for the First Ballot of these weeks took a bit to sufficiently wrap up, hopefully the result's been worth the overtime that finally saw it come together.

These days, see, coverage is a choice between speed and depth, and – especially with the month ahead – at least on this end, the better thing seems being able to look back with a sense of having done the story well enough that it stands the test of time. (Just as, nine years later, the Whispers treatment of the last "Black Conclave" still holds its own.)

Lest anyone missed it before, the shape of this Fall Cycle has already been laid out...

....and as we move into its second phase – let alone some surprises along the way – the reminder's in order that these pages keep coming your way solely by means of their readership's support.

To be sure, this is never the scribe's easiest of moments, but it is the only way this work can pay its bills – and, especially these days, Lord only knows how much remaining a truly independent outlet relying on the crowd still beats selling out.

While the latter's never an option here, such is the state of the books that shutting down remains a risk – so it seems, a sizable one... because without your part in making all this happen, it simply can't be done.

As ever, Church, the path ahead is your call:, can we get back to the news yet?


Monday, October 17, 2016

For Jesuits' Future, Father-General's "Journeys of Collaboration"

Keeping with the custom of the Society of Jesus, before Saturday's Mass of Thanksgiving for his election, the 31st Father-General (back right) stood and listened as the mandate of his office was read out to him in the small room adjacent to the Gesu Church where Ignatius of Loyola wrote the job description into the Constitutions of his Company.

As for what Arturo Sosa's ascent as the first non-European "Black Pope" means, however, the fallout is anything but typical, reflecting an unprecedented "upstairs" dynamic in the five-century history of the church's largest and most influential order, even more than the worldwide Society's relentless shift of its membership's dominance toward the other side of the global south.

On the prinicipal sliding scale that faced the 215 electors of the 36th General Congregation – how closely they wanted the new General to be affiliated with the first Jesuit ever to occupy the Chair of Peter – the GC Fathers moved decisively and quickly to secure a maximal bond to Francis, choosing someone Papa Bergoglio already knew as a fellow Latin American provincial, and a confrere whose CV included a significant role in the social ministry the "White" Pope has come to see as indispensable to the entire church's mission.

Given one of the more onerous tasks each Father-General faces – negotiating the Jesuits' relationship with the Vatican and smoothing out its concerns – that kind of comfort level from the outset is a very potent asset. At the same time, as another Latin confrere indicated, the new chief enjoys a reputation as "caudillo" – the loaded term roughly equivalent to "strongman"... a quality where, lest anyone forgot, Francis isn't exactly a slouch, himself.

Yet even for as critical as the Pope angle is – all the more in the present scene – in another established tie with the folks up the Borgo, as Sosa was the Society's top resident official in Latin America at the turn of the decade while remaining in his native Venezuela, it is no less significant that the Nuncio then posted to Caracas was Pietro Parolin, now tasked with making the Holy See's trains run on time as Francis' formidable Cardinal-Secretary of State.

In terms of the internals of the Company, meanwhile, the choice of Sosa signals a continuity at the helm of a kind unseen in living memory. It's been over a century since the last time a deputy of the Jesuit Curia became successor of Ignatius in his own right, and some seven decades since a Father-General has come to the post without having spent most of his professed life away from his homeland.

That combination makes for a rather unusual mix. In light of the new Superior's prior tasks as a General Counselor at home, then the overseer of the Society's Roman houses – which, given their nature, encompass (and require close ties with) the entire Jesuit world – Sosa begins with a better sense of the wider order than the last 50 years of his predecessors have had at the start of their tenures. Being a "lifer" in Latin America until 2014, meanwhile – in contrast to the heavily Eastern exposure shared by the last three Generals – brings a greater ease and experience with the deeply established institutional apparatus which dominates the Jesuit reality across the Western world.

That background will help with guiding two concurrent, but remarkably counter-posed transitions: in Europe and the Americas, the ongoing hurdle remains how the Society's works broach the future amid increasingly fewer priests and brothers available to lead them, while the immense growth zones of Asia and Africa (which have rocketed to a plurality of the order's membership within three decades) present the challenge of forging a sustainable path toward the building of new entities to serve ecclesial environments whose youth and dynamism are bursting at the seems.

* * *
With its major election completed, the GC now moves to its other marquee items: the preparation and approval of the Decrees which will set the focus for Jesuit life and identity worldwide over the next decade or more, and the reconstitution of the Curia with the body's choice of the four Assistants ad providentiam – the Rome-based principal advisers who form the core of a General's team. Beyond them, the remainder of the dozen or so General Counsellors are freely chosen by the Superior, who likewise determines the geographic or topic-based responsibilities each holds.

On the latter front, the election of the new Assistants will mark the final major responsibility to leave the hands of Fr Federico Lombardi (left) after a decade of juggling that 24/7 role alongside his higher-profile tasks as head of Vatican Radio and Television and director of the Holy See Press Office, from which he retired in August.

Much as it's a fitting tribute to Don Federico's herculean work ethic that the many hats he's worn are now demanding a community-sized group to carry onward, even a team of hands would be hard-pressed to equal the grace, generosity, integrity and dignity Lombardi has embodied without fail – all while navigating the ceaseless load of four pressure-cookers, to boot. May his pure, ever-faithful goodness remain an example far and wide, especially for those of us who've been blessed to share the ride of these years with him.

As the Negotia (business) phase winds down, the assembly is set to meet in short order with Pope SJ for Francis' intensely awaited address.

While it's long been the case that the pontiff sizes up the life of each major religious community in an audience and speech to its global chapter during its discussions, not since a Camaldolese Benedictine became Gregory XVI in the 1830s has a Pope been able to assess an order's mission and challenges as one of its own members.

Again, much as that would be a big deal for any order, the historic confluence of the Pope-as-member is infinitely more consequential given the community in question, for two reasons: the Jesuits' size, scope and the sheer clout of their efforts on the global stage and – in a particular way – Ignatius' placement of the Company at the direct and complete service of the Pope, vowed to obedience to the pontiff and his directives for "the missions."

Accordingly, the first Jesuit-turned-Bishop of Rome maintained a resolute silence in the run-up to the election of the General, two prior turns from Francis serve to summarize his concept of what the modern Jesuits are, and what the "mission" means today.

First, during an intimate meeting with the Jesuit community in Krakow (above) during his July visit for World Youth Day, after wrapping up a planned Q&A with the confreres, the Pope sat back down to launch into a spontaneous reflection, with a pointed request – that the Society "work with seminarians... above all, giv[ing] them what you have received from the Exercises: the wisdom of discernment."

As the onetime provincial and novice-master explained his call:
Some priestly formation programs run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined a priori, and that set aside concrete situations: 'you must do this, you must not do this.' And then the seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults. Because many are asking: 'can you do this or can you not?' That’s all. And many people leave the confessional disappointed. Not because the priest is bad, but because the priest doesn’t have the ability to discern situations, to accompany [people] in authentic discernment. They don’t have the needed formation.

Today the Church needs to grow in discernment, in the ability to discern. And priests above all really need it for their ministry. This is why we need to teach it to seminarians and priests in formation: they are the ones usually entrusted with the confidences of the conscience of the faithful. Spiritual direction is not solely a priestly charism, but also lay, it is true. But, I repeat, you must teach this above all to priests, helping them in the light of the Exercises in the dynamic of pastoral discernment, which respects the law but knows how to go beyond. This is an important task for the Society....

In the Exercises St Ignatius asks to be introduced both to the intentions of the Lord of life and to those of the enemy of human nature and to his lies. What he has written is bold, it is truly bold, but discernment is precisely this! We need to form future priests not to general and abstract ideas, which are clear and distinct, but to this keen discernment of spirits so that they can help people in their concrete life. We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black. No! The shades of grey prevail in life. We must them teach to discern in this grey area.
To be sure, the interpretive key of that statement is the centrality of discernment and conscience sketched out by Francis in Amoris Laetitia – and, with it, the ongoing skirmishes the concept has wrought in the Establishment he inherited. That the Pope saw fit to deem the church as lacking in discernment in speaking to his own confreres (and, what's more, proposing them as the remedy) merely highlights the critical import he assigns to the issue and its likely return in his GC address.

Yet even before his first Synod on the Family, the now-(in)famous "D"-word loomed large in Papa Bergoglio's mind.

A week before launching the 2014 Extraordinary Synod, Francis (seen above with Sosa and his now-predecessor, Fr Adolfo Nicolás) presided at an epic Jesuit moment in the Gesu – a Vespers to mark the bicentennial of the Society's restoration after four decades of suppression, an act which no less than John Paul II chalked up to the "enemies of the church."

Basing his preach for the occasion on the 18th century Father-General whose single-mindedness in mission contributed to Pope Clement XIV's move to disband the order, while the reigning pontiff cited Fr Lorenzo Ricci's witness as an example for the modern Company, it isn't hard to see Francis finding in the historic General a model likewise for himself....
In times of trial and tribulation, dust clouds of doubt and suffering are always raised and it is not easy to move forward, to continue the journey. Many temptations come, especially in difficult times and in crises: to stop to discuss ideas, to allow oneself to be carried away by the desolation, to focus on the fact of being persecuted, and not to see anything else. Reading the letters of Fr Ricci, one thing struck me: his ability to avoid being blocked by these temptations and to propose to the Jesuits, in a time of trouble, a vision of the things that rooted them even more in the spirituality of the Society.

Father General Ricci, who wrote to the Jesuits at the time, watching the clouds thickening on the horizon, strengthened them in their membership in the body of the Society and its mission. This is the point: in a time of confusion and turmoil he discerned. He did not waste time discussing ideas and complaining, but he took on the charge of the vocation of the Society. He had to preserve the Society and he took charge of it.

And this attitude led the Jesuits to experience the death and resurrection of the Lord. Faced with the loss of everything, even of their public identity, they did not resist the will of God, they did not resist the conflict, trying to save themselves. The Society - and this is beautiful - lived the conflict to the end, without minimizing it. It lived humiliation along with the humiliated Christ; it obeyed. You never save yourself from conflict with cunning and with strategies of resistance. In the confusion and humiliation, the Society preferred to live the discernment of God's will, without seeking a way out of the conflict in a seemingly quiet manner. Or at least in an elegant way: this they did not do.

It is never apparent tranquillity that satisfies our hearts, but true peace that is a gift from God. One should never seek the easy "compromise" nor practice facile “irenicism”. Only discernment saves us from real uprooting, from the real "suppression" of the heart, which is selfishness, worldliness, the loss of our horizon. Our hope is Jesus; it is only Jesus. Thus Fr Ricci and the Society during the suppression gave priority to history rather than a possible grey “little tale”, knowing that love judges history and that hope - even in darkness - is greater than our expectations.
* * *
All that said, back to the Father-General of the present.

Woven in the palpable Christology of his homily at Saturday's Thanksgiving Mass, in keeping with the analysis above, it was deeply telling that Sosa devoted almost as much of his de facto "inaugural message" to the theme of "collaboration" – the term the Jesuits use for the participation of non-members in the Society's works – urging the order to embrace the practice "generously."

In the grand scheme of things, that indication is even more significant than the new General's pledge that the Company will continue "to think so that we never cease posing pertinent theological questions."

Here, a translation of Sosa's complete text:
Dearest Brothers,

A few days ago, in this very Church of the Gesù, where the remains of St. Ignatius and Pedro Arrupe are laid to rest, Fr. Bruno Cadorè invited us to have the audacity of the improbable as the distinctive stance of persons of faith, who seek to bear witness to such faith in the complex reality of human life. He invited us to leave behind our fear and to row out into the deep, as a kind of attitude for being at once creative and faithful during the General Congregation.

Certainly, the audacity that we need in order to be servants of the mission of Christ Jesus can flow only from faith. For this reason, our gaze is directed first of all to God, since you have only one Father, and He is in heaven, as the passage from the Gospel which we have just heard reminds us. And as the Formula of the Institute reminds us at paragraph no .1: “Let (the Jesuit) have before his eyes, as long as he lives, before anything else, God, and then the form of this his Institute.” In fact, it is the whole heart that we wish to have in tune with the Merciful Father, the God that is only Love, our Principle and Foundation – the heart of each of us and also the heart of the body of the Society.

If our faith is like that of Mary, Jesus’ own mother and the Mother of the Society of Jesus, our audacity can go even further and seek not only the improbable, but the impossible, because nothing is impossible for God, as the Archangel Gabriel proclaims in the scene of the Annunciation (Luke 1:37). It is the same faith held by St. Teresa of Avila, or St. Teresa of Jesus, whose memorial we celebrate today. She too, without fear, entrusted herself to the Lord in order to undertake the improbable and the impossible.

Let us ask, therefore, for this faith from the Lord, so that we, as the Society of Jesus, can also make our own the words of Mary in her response to the extraordinary call that she received: “Behold the servant of the Lord: Be it done to me according to your word.” Like Ignatius and the First Companions, like so many Jesuit brothers who have fought and who fight today under the banner of the cross, in service only to the Lord and to his Church, we too desire to contribute to that which today seems impossible: a humanity reconciled in justice, that dwells peacefully in a well-cared-for common home, where there is a place for all, since we recognize each other as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of the same and only Father.

For this reason, we reaffirm even today the conviction of Ignatius as he wrote the Constitutions: “Since the Society of Jesus was not instituted by human means, it is not through them that it can be preserved and increased, but with the all-powerful hand of Christ, our God and Lord; in Him alone must our hope be placed.”

With our hope placed in God and in God alone the General Congregation will proceed with its deliberations and it will contribute to its duty to preserve and grow this whole body (Const. 719).

The preservation and growth of the body of the Society is tightly bound to the depth of the spiritual life of each of its members and of the communities in which we share life and mission with our companions. At the same time, it is necessary to have an extraordinary intellectual depth in order to think creatively about the ways in which our service to the mission of Christ Jesus can be more effective, in the creative tension of the Ignatian magis. To think about ways of deeply understanding the unique moment of human history in which we are living, and to contribute to the search for alternatives for overcoming poverty, inequality, and oppression. To think so that we never cease posing pertinent theological questions, and so that we continue to deepen our understanding of the faith that we ask the Lord to increase in ourselves.

We are not alone. As companions of Jesus we too want to follow the journey of the incarnation, to identify ourselves with the human beings that suffer the consequences of injustice. The Society of Jesus can develop only in collaboration with others, only if it becomes the least Society that collaborates. Let us be attentive to the linguistic pitfalls here. We want to increase collaboration, not just to seek that others collaborate with us, with our own works, only because we don’t want to lose the prestige of the position of who has the last word. We want to collaborate generously with others, inside and outside of the Church, in the awareness, which comes from the experience of God, of being called to the mission of Christ Jesus, which doesn’t belong to us exclusively, but whom we share with so many men and women who are consecrated to the service of others.

In the journey of collaboration, with the grace of God, we will also find new companions to increase the number, always much too small no matter how great, of collaborators who, along with the others, are invited to be part of this body. There is hardly any doubt about the need to increase our prayer and our work for vocations to the Society, and to continue the complex commitment to provide the formation that makes of them true Jesuits, members of this multicultural body that is called to testify to the richness of interculturalism as the face of humanity, created in the image and likeness of God.

Let us, therefore, today make our own the words of the Apostle Paul: may the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward the other according to the example of Christ Jesus, so that you may give glory to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ with one heart and one voice. (Rm. 15:5)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Tenemos El "Papa Negro" – Shattering 500 Years, Jesuits Call an American General

As anticipated, the watershed has come to pass – albeit with a twist.

For the first time in its nearly five centuries of existence, global Catholicism's largest and most influential religious order has sent its leadership beyond Europe.... Yet even as the bulk of the modern Society of Jesus now belongs to Asia, the direction of the historic shift went elsewhere: the 30th successor of St Ignatius is a Latin American – not so much an intrepid move as an intriguing echo of the cardinals' vote three years ago, this choice now accordingly bound to a certain Argentinian Jesuit-turned-Pope.

Just after Roman Noon, word emerged from Borgo Santo Spirito that Fr Arturo Sosa (right) – the 67 year-old Venezuelan serving as delegate for the Jesuit houses in Rome – was elected the Company's 31st Father-General, the election completed after some two hours.

More to come.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

"In All Things Love and Serve" – As Jesuit Pope Looks On, The "Black Conclave" Awaits

Even as the Pope keeps plugging away at various initiatives, above all else, the core of this Fall's news-cycle is rooted in three elections – none of which Francis has a vote in, yet all set to offer a snapshot of Jorge Bergoglio's impact on the wider church as his pontificate wends toward its fifth year.

Of course, the buildup continues toward the most omnipresent of the coming choices – with 26 days remaining until the US' presidential election, after a campaign cycle unparalleled in its strangeness and rancor, only now is much of the leadership class of the nation's largest religious body deciding what to do. In other words, that dynamic amid a tight race makes this October an even more critical time than usual in terms of the all-important Catholic vote.

A week later, meanwhile, another key decision awaits: in a confluence that only occurs once every dozen years, the US bishops will follow up the White House vote with the election of their own president and vice-president during their plenary in Baltimore. As the bench's (almost) sacrosanct tradition elevates the incumbent #2 to the top slot, the pick of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo's deputy will essentially lock in the conference's direction for the next six years: a timeframe likely to extend beyond Francis' reign, and likewise one which – given turbulence between the hierarchy and Federal government on several fronts – portends an intense new phase of church-state disputes regardless of who ends up in the Oval Office.

Given Sunday's announcement of cardinals-designate and a Consistory next month, we can add the thread of another, albeit not imminent, vote to this election-centric cycle – the eventual next Conclave.... For now, though, even the fresh scarlet crop takes a back seat to the first major ballot of these weeks: among the looming trio, the most consequential one for the church, the one most important to the Man in White, both personally and in the programmatic... and, indeed, the one over which Francis looms largest.

*    *    *
After two years of preparation, the "Black Conclave" is upon us – sometime tomorrow morning (Friday, 14 October) in Rome, the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus will culminate in the election of the 30th successor of Ignatius of Loyola as head of global Catholicism's largest and most influential religious community of men.

It's no accident that the post has long held the moniker "Black Pope" – in terms of the raw authority he can exercise across the Catholic world and the massive collection of works he oversees, the Jesuit Father-General is the second most powerful cleric in the universal church, behind only his white-clad neighbor up the Borgo Santo Spirito.

The reasons are twofold: first, unlike the fixed term of office held by practically every other global superior, Ignatius gave his successors a lifetime mandate (even as, for the third time in a row, this GC has seen a General resign due to age or infirmity). And most of all, with the Company crafted to resemble an army, once elected, the General's prerogatives are sweeping and practically unchecked – an exercise most vividly seen in his unilateral appointment of the provincials who manage the order's worldwide branches, and the heads of the ten continental assistancies into which they're grouped.

Already, the immediate prelude to the election is underway, in the form of one of Catholicism's most mysterious and fascinating procedures. Since Monday, the 215 delegates have been immersed in the traditional 96 hours of murmuratio ("murmuring") – an exercise of intense prayer and discernment, in which the electors may speak to each other, but only one-on-one, to pursue information about candidate(s) with the qualities to be elected General, and the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Aside from prayer and meals in common, activity among any more than two delegates is forbidden, as is "lobbying" or vote-counts of any sort. Notably, after spending the GC's first week in small group discussions of the De statu Societatis – the massive report on the "State of the Society," identifying the global order's strengths and needs (and thus framing the identikit of the new General) – the Fathers moved to slow up their timeframe before proceeding to the election, a signal that the initial sizing up of their options and direction needed a bit more depth.

Once the four days of mumuratio are completed early tomorrow, after a 7.30am Mass of the Holy Spirit, the voting begins. All told, it tends to be much quicker than the "other" Conclave: in the two most recent electoral GCs (1983 and 2008), the General respectively emerged on the first and second ballots.

While the Society used the two-year prep period to gut and rebuild the Aula where the Congregation meets – and, to help "live in reconciliation with the earth," made the proceedings as digitally-friendly as possible to cut down on paper – the vote for the General will still be done in pen and ink. Yet only its conclusion brings the fun part: once a simple majority has chosen the new successor of Ignatius, before the doors are opened and the wider world is informed, by ancient custom, the name of the designee must be sent to the Pope for his assent.

Over the last few GCs, with the pontiff already put on standby, the message was delivered by phone call.... But this time, for obvious reasons, what's to say the Man in White won't be waiting outside the room?

More on that in a sec.

* * *
As for the state of the Company, just shy of nine years since Adolfo Nicolás was elected the 29th heir of Ignatius, the mood as the Spanish-born missionary in Asia departed the Generalate last week at 80 is markedly different from what greeted the Fathers of GC35, who stoked a fair amount of shock in early 2008 by making the figure known as "Nico" (above) the oldest man ever tapped to lead the 17,000-member order.

Hailed as a second coming of Pedro Arrupe, Nicolás was a provocative choice to succeed Peter-Hans Kolvenbach – the austere Dutchman whose diplomatic 25-year tenure placed the high tensions of the early 1980s in the rear-view mirror. Even so, however, the Society the more recent Spaniard inherited is a drastically different animal from the Europe-and-America-centric era of the 1960s and 70s given a staggering geographic shift of its membership.

Already a key thread at its predecessor, the current Congregation even more powerfully reflects an altered reality – the dominance of Jesuits from the global south, above all in Asia, whose delegation this time is more than double that of the historically formidable Latin American branch; and, in a major first, larger than this GC's European contingent. (What's more, of the 5,600 Asian Jesuits, no less than 4,000 are from India.)

Accordingly, while the last General represented an acceptable "fusion" of the Company's heritage and future at an earlier stage of the demographic handoff, the reality remained that every Jesuit chief has been European-born. With the Eastward trajectory only increased over the last near-decade, the scene is effectively set for its potential watershed moment in tomorrow's vote – a realization of the mission begun almost five centuries earlier, when Francis Xavier sailed for India and Japan.

On another critical front, meanwhile, there's the matter of the Jesuit up the street from the General Curia – as never before, a professed member whose fourth vow (of obedience to the Pope for the missions) now applies to himself.

Here, it bears recalling that the election of Jorge Bergoglio SJ as Bishop of Rome stoked no small amount of in-house anxiety among his confreres in light of his reputation as an authoritarian provincial of Argentina in the 1970s, and the resulting split it caused within the community there. As Francis has since openly admitted to regret over his youthful management style – he was named provincial at 36 – and invested a significant amount of time and energy reaching out to "us Jesuits" both in Rome and on the road, the concerns have effectively been assuaged.

At the same time, however, the reality of a Jesuit Pope – and one who had once been "exiled" by his superiors – has created a dynamic as tricky as it's proven a boon to the order's profile: within the Society itself, the eclipse of its own leadership by the figure of the Roman pontiff. In more ways than one, that's turned the fraught scenario of the early 1980s – when John Paul II temporarily imposed his own delegate, Fr (later Cardinal) Paolo Dezza, at the Jesuits' helm – on its head. Still, it's a historically unique challenge which looms large over tomorrow's vote.

Later this month, Francis will address the GC, his remarks likely to carry as much weight as the decrees which will shape the next steps of the Company's mission, which the delegates will craft following the election of the new General. In the meantime, though, it is nothing short of extraordinary that, despite his status as the de facto superior – and his history as an attendee of the Arrupe-era Congregations that canonized "the service of faith and promotion of justice" as the core of the modern Jesuit charism – the Pope has studiously avoided a manifestation of his mind to his confreres as they approach the choice of their next head.

As context goes, Francis' silence is quite the reversal from the run-up to Nicolás' election, when the Vatican's then-Religious chief – the outspoken Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé – presided and preached at the opening Mass, and the days just before the balloting saw Benedict XVI issue a letter to the GC urging the gathering to, among other things, reaffirm the Jesuits' "total adhesion to Catholic doctrine, in particular on those neuralgic points which today are strongly attacked by secular culture, as for example the relationship between Christ and religions; some aspects of the theology of liberation; and various points of sexual morality, especially as regards the indissolubility of marriage and the pastoral care of homosexual persons."

Given the history, then, the aftermath of the election is almost certain to bring an epic moment: a Jesuit Pope rushing over to his community's headquarters to pay his respects to the new successor of Ignatius.

That is, if he's not already outside the Aula, looking to be the first one to head in.

* * *
Following his election – most likely on Sunday – the new Father-General will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving with the GC delegates in the Gesu Church. The liturgy begins, however, in the adjacent camarete: the small room where Ignatius wrote the Society's Constitutions.

There, the 31st Superior will be charged with the following mandate, drawn from the founding text....
Your Fatherhood, the Lord has chosen you as successor of St Ignatius in the leadership of his Company.

Remember the qualities that the Constitutions recommend that the Superior General must expect of himself: be always united intimately with the Lord, for familiarity with God in prayer and in all things is the fountain of grace for the entire apostolic work of the Society.

Be for us an example of virtue, let charity for all be resplendent in you, and true humility: this will make you lovable before our Lord God and before men.

Be free from passions, live with mortification and rectitude, that you may always be pure in your justice and each one inspired by your integrity.

Know to moderate kindness with firmness, just indulgence with severity, that you might match the love of Christ the Lord.

With strength of spirit, support the weakness of the many and persevere constantly in the face of adversity, trusting not in your own strengths, but in the love and grace of God. Be firm in doctrine, wise in your judgments, prudent in your decisions, illumined in discerning the spirits, vigilant in leading to fulfillment that which is entrusted to you.

Seek not the esteem or the honors of men, but seek rather to please only the Lord, to receive from him your just reward.

Love the Company, not as your possession, but as that which has been entrusted to you, that it might bring forth countless fruits of charity and service; and when the owner of the house returns, know that from this you will make account before his just mercy.

Remember, then, that you are given to us as a guide, so that in watching and following you in the acceptance of our own vocation, all of us might persevere and grow in that way which leads to the Lord, with the end of reaching that for which we have been created and called.

May the good Father bring to completion that which he has begun in you, for the good of the church, of the Company and of men.

In all things love and serve.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

A Scarlet Bolt – Pope Announces 17 New Cardinals

(SVILUPPO: Updated Noon ET with first analysis.)

Suffice it to say, it's become Pope Francis' unique habit that, in announcing new cardinals, no one is told in advance – above all the designates... let alone anyone else.

Accordingly, at the end of today's Angelus, 17 names were suddenly dropped for a Consistory to be held on Saturday, 19 November, to coincide with the close of the Jubilee Year – 13 of them electors, and four others to be elevated over the retirement age of 80.

Among other notables in the group: three voting Americans (making up for back-to-back shutouts in Francis' first two intakes), and a fresh dose of the pontiff's cherished "peripheries," including the first-ever red hats from Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, Malaysia, the island-chain of Mauritius, and Papua New Guinea.

Here, the designates, in the order by which they will be created:

–Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria
–Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga, CSSp. of Bangui (Central African Republic)
–Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid
–Archbishop Sérgio da Rocha of Brasilia
–Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago
–Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario, CSC of Dhaka (Bangladesh)
–Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo of Mérida (Venezuela)
–Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels (Belgium)
–Archbishop Maurice Piat of Port-Louis (Mauritius)
–Bishop Kevin Joseph Farrell, emeritus of Dallas, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life
–Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla (Mexico)
–Archbishop John Ribat, M.S.C. of Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea)
–Archbishop Joseph William Tobin, CSSR of Indianapolis

And the "honorary" hats for retirees:

–Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez, emeritus of Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
–Bishop Renato Corti, emeritus of Novara (Italia)
–Bishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai, OMI, emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek (Lesotho)
–Fr Ernest Simoni, priest of Shkodrë-Pult (Albania)

* * *
Given what many will take as the day's big surprise – the elevation of Joe Tobin, 64, the Detroit-born Redemptorist who's led the 250,000-member Indy church since 2012 – well, for starters, the nickname he's long had among his confreres bears recalling: "Big Red."

To be sure, that's more a reference to both the former hockey enforcer's onetime ginger hair and the worldwide religious family he would lead for 12 years... still, given the latest curveball in a ministry full of them, the moniker fits its newest turn no less.

After two terms as superior-general of the Redemptorists, in 2010 Benedict XVI named Tobin as archbishop-secretary of the "Congregation for Religious," armed with a mandate to bring a smooth landing to the Holy See's visitation of the US' apostolic communities of sisters, which had become mired in untold levels of controversy and misunderstandings in domestic church-circles and media alike. That he entered the job by publicly cross-checking the excesses of the Roman Curia – in words that, while controversial at the time, would prove to be prophetic – is something that shouldn't be forgotten today. (Below, the now cardinal-designate is seen leading a family singalong at the reception following his ordination.)

With the task essentially finished in two years – thanks in large part to the now cardinal-designate's fierce commitment to dialogue with the orders, and an equally formidable integration of their concerns into the process – Tobin's appointment to Indianapolis didn't just fulfill his wish to get home to the Midwest (above all to his indomitable mother, Marie-Terese, who raised 13 children alone as a young widow), the move likewise brought someone who had been a veteran pastor among the first Hispanic waves in Detroit and Chicago to a diocese which was just beginning to experience a sizable Latino influx, making the newcomers a priority in the venerable, largely-rural church for the first time.

Barely six months after Tobin's arrival by the Brickyard, his southern fluency would come into the ultimate reason behind this historic red hat: with the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, while most US bishops were furiously brushing up on the new pontiff, the Indy prelate suddenly found himself as one of the closest Stateside friends of the new Bishop of Rome – indeed, one of precious few North Americans who had any firsthand experience with him, let alone at length.

That serendipity owed itself to the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, which Tobin, as head of the Redemptorists, attended as the delegate of the Union of Superiors General (the umbrella-group of the global leaders of mens' orders).

As the Synod's circuli minores – the small discussion-groups – were split up by language, bishops had already taken all the English-speaking slots by seniority, so Tobin found a seat in a Spanish group... and spent the next month sitting alongside the cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Accordingly, eight years later, within an hour of the Argentine's election to Peter's Chair – as most US hierarchs furiously sought to cram up on the Conclave's choice – the Indianapolis media was treated to the most fully steeped of briefings while sitting around their archbishop's desk.

Sure enough, nobody in the States came anywhere close to "nailing" the man and the story so precisely in the moment – and, again, today's news merely evinces the result.

Within a year, Francis already showed that he hadn't forgotten his old friend, naming Tobin a member of the Curial Congregation he had helped oversee (a rare nod for a far-flung bishop), as well as quietly sending him on a few delicate missions.

Over those same months in 2014, meanwhile, as someone the Pope knew – and who, in many ways, bore his scent – the Redemptorist's name was duly floated at high levels for Chicago, only to be deemed too much a "wild card" by some key players, given his lack of experience in the national rungs of leadership.

Amid that backdrop, this most "personal" seat in the College a Pope has given an American since 1958 (when John XXIII elevated Bishop Aloysius Muench of Fargo, who Papa Roncalli knew and admired as the postwar Nuncio to Germany) – and one given alongside the eventual Windy City pick – shows anew, and for the first time in the US, that even as Francis can be freewheeling in consulting  on major diocesan appointments, when it comes to the "Senate" that will elect his successor (and from which the next Pope will come), his choices are his own.


While no shortage of early focus on Tobin's elevation has honed in on Tobin's public clash with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – now the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee – over the archdiocese's decision last year to take in Syrian refugees, a far quieter, less politically charged angle carries even more weight. (On a context note, however, Pence's move to ban the migrants from the Hoosier State was rejected as discriminatory by a Federal appeals court last week.)

Each November during the USCCB meeting in Baltimore, the local Catholic Worker House goes to the trouble to invite all of the 300-odd prelates for dinner and conversation one night during Plenary Week. And for years, all of one consistently turned up: Bishop John Michael Botean, the Ohio-based eparch of North America's 8,000 Romanian Catholics, who famously declared on the eve of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq that "any direct participation and support of this war... is objectively grave evil [and] a matter of mortal sin."

Normally as low-profile as he was outspoken on the war, as Botean slipped out to keep his usual commitment at the 2012 meeting, he was stunned to find company looking to head to the Peace Dinner: Tobin, who was just joining the Stateside bench upon his appointment to Indianapolis, and – having long and openly witnessed to four decades in recovery – was bound to find little taste for the oft-boozy scene of dinners and receptions that fill the hotel after the daily Floor sessions.

Long story short, the Catholic Worker night is a commitment he's kept ever since. And even as Francis' push toward the "peripheries" has raised the event's annual crowd to around a dozen bishops, as never before, now there'll be a cardinal in the room for it....

And in this world, that says everything.

* * *
Said to have learned the news only on hearing pre-dawn shouting that woke him up at the Indy church's seminary at St Meinrad – far from the see city... and reliable cell service – Cardinal-designate Tobin issued his initial reaction on his recently-launched Twitter feed:

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Quote of the Day

“I thought long and hard in the first days of these many pains that my visit, perhaps, would be more of a hindrance than a help, a greeting. I didn’t want to be a bother so I let a little time pass, so that some things could be resolved, like the school. But from the first moment, I felt that I needed to come to you! Simply to express my closeness to you, nothing more. And I pray, pray for you! Solidarity and prayer: this is my offering to you.

May the Lord bless you all; may Our Lady watch over you in this moment of sadness, pain, and trial.... Let’s move forward; there is always a future. There are many loved ones who have left us, who fell here under the rubble. Let us pray to Our Lady for them; let us do it together. Always look ahead.

Corraggio, and help each other. One walks better together – alone we go nowhere. Avanti! Thank you.
–Pope Francis
Amatrice, Rieti
4 October 2016
Five weeks since a 6.2 magnitude earthquake 60 miles from Rome killed some 300 people – leaving destroyed villages and thousands with no home but a tent – the Pope got his wish on this St Francis' Day, making a visit "alone" to the area, all of 48 hours after hinting to his traveling press-pool that it likely wouldn't happen until later in the Fall.

Highlighting the risk of a journey most of the usual papal crew only learned of once Papa Bergoglio had arrived by car in the quake-zone, yet another aftershock hit during the trek.

Along the way, after stopping in silent prayer at the worst sites of damage, Francis spent several hours meeting first responders, the injured in hospitals, relatives of the dead and survivors still stranded in makeshift shelters.


For US Church, Tuesday Trade-Ins: Fly-Fishing for A Dogsled... and A Cathedral for The Capital

While the Pope marked his adopted feast with a surprise visit to quake-ravaged Rieti, this St Francis' Day has brought a double shifting of plates in the top ranks of the Stateside church.

At Roman Noon, Francis tapped Bishop Paul Etienne (above) – the avid outdoorsman who's reveled in the "smell" of Wyoming over seven years at the helm of its statewide diocese of Cheyenne – to another sprawling pioneer's paradise, elevating the 57 year-old to Alaska's lead post as archbishop of Anchorage. At the same time, months of anxiety in Raleigh have surprisingly been realized as Bishop Michael Burbidge, 59 – the USCCB chair for clergy and religious, who's brought the 500,000-member North Carolina fold to the threshold of a new cathedral set to open next July – has been transferred to the outskirts of the nation's capital as the fourth bishop of Arlington.

In both cases, the moves infuse their respective locales with a fresh dose of energy – both a year past the retirement age of 75, retiring Archbishop Roger Schweitz and Bishop Paul Loverde have each held their posts since the turn of the millennium. Both dioceses likewise face intense challenges of scale: in Anchorage, the 140,000 square-mile spread makes for a daunting haul much of the year, as a crunch of priests has seen Schweitz – who pilots his own plane to cover the stops – pitch in by taking the full-time pastorate of a parish on top of the wider role. In Arlington, meanwhile, the ongoing growth of Washington's Northern Virginia suburbs hasn't merely doubled the size of the diocese since 1990 toward the 600,000 mark, but in the process yielded a Catholic population coming ever closer to a Hispanic majority.

A son of rural southern Indiana, Etienne (pron.: "A-chen") hails from an almost-storybook ecclesial clan: one of six siblings, three became priests, and his sister is a Benedictine. For his part, the archbishop-elect's vocation had its fits and starts – needing a break from the seminary, the future prelate managed a shoe-store before his first brush with church officialdom as a lay employee of the US bishops in planning the mammoth Papal Visit of 1987, when John Paul II cris-crossed the country for two weeks.

Ordained in 1992, Etienne was immediately placed in vocations work alongside parish ministry, pastoring four churches alongside a stint as vice-rector of Indianapolis' college seminary. Only underscoring his love for life on the land, the 2009 phone call with word of his appointment to Wyoming famously came while the nominee was surrounded by power tools, cutting down trees on family property for his day off. (As the new Alaskan's mentor tells it, the priest-brothers gave each other hunting rifles as ordination gifts, to boot.)

A fly-fishing rod ever tossed in the back of his truck – and tipped as a rising star from the get-go – the boyish bishop has brought Wyoming two qualities that are exceedingly difficult to pull off for a statewide fold spanning 100,000 square miles: cohesion and action. While interminable hours behind the wheel to reach every place went a long way toward doing the trick, technology's provided a useful assist, with Etienne taking to a blog (and, with time, a Twitter feed) that, beyond keeping the locals updated on his travels, often veered into reflections on prayer and things in the news.

This morning, with the nominee said to be "shaken" over the move, the new archbishop's page carries a simple message to Wyoming: "I love you."

Though Anchorage's Catholic population of 35,000 is relatively small, it has grown markedly over recent years, with a sudden influx of Latinos becoming a priority for ministry. In light of the uptick, in late 2014 Schweitz moved the the archdiocese's de facto seat from the cramped Holy Family Cathedral downtown to one of the city's newer parishes, Our Lady of Guadalupe (above), designating the ample church as his co-cathedral.

Etienne will be installed there, with an early November timeframe in the works – the usual appointment day presser is slated for 11am local time/3pm ET.

(SVILUPPO: Full remarks, headlined by the archbishop-elect's rare admission that, on being told of the Pope's move, he couldn't accept on the spot. His installation at Guadalupe is set for Wednesday, 9 November.)

* * *
As for the fourth bishop of Arlington, it's a sign he'd appreciate – word his appointment set off some rather remarkable flights of eyebrows up and down the East Coast.

Indeed, it's an unwritten rule that a bishop engaged in building a cathedral is not to be moved until it's dedicated (and, preferably, paid off). Yet after a decade that's seen Raleigh nearly double in size, exponentially increase its number of seminarians, make significant strides at serving the Hispanics who now comprise roughly half the diocese – and its bishop elected to lead the US bishops' arm for clergy, religious and vocations – an infinitely more charged assignment with similar needs and challenges apparently could wait no longer.

Along those lines, history's repeating itself – before Burbidge, the last time the rector of Overbrook had been a bishop, he ended up in Arlington, too... yet while the latest of the line doesn't share Tom Welsh's penchant for weeping openly, it'd be a surprise if he didn't shed a few tears over this. In any case, given the NoVA diocese's firm bond with St Charles Borromeo Seminary from the very founding of the Beltway church, this move has the makings of a family reunion to it.

Lest anyone's looking for the longtime Eagles' season ticketholder to transfer an iota of loyalty to the Redskins, though, just know there will be none of that... to repeat: there will be none of that – the way this season's going, Lord knows there'll probably be more bleeding-green crowing than anything else. (Welcome back to the NFC East, brother.)

A diocese whose core is overwhelmingly comprised of DC commuters and government or non-profit employees, Arlington has long enjoyed a reputation as a bastion of conservative Catholicism, both ecclesiologically and in terms of its secular politics – not for nothing was the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (father of the diocese's clergy-personnel chief) fittingly the local church's most celebrated and revered member, ordained or lay alike.

Even if the long-awaited appointee certainly fits the bill on that front, it bears noting that the descriptor is not as maximal as some might seek (or fear) it to be. To cite but one recent example, after national controversy erupted over the North Carolina law restricting transgender access to their preferred restrooms, in early May Burbidge issued a conciliatory statement drawing back a prior show of support for the measure, and urging – as the church's lead advocate in the state capital – that "another remedy" be found, one which would "defend human dignity; avoid any form of bigotry; respect religious liberty and the convictions of religious institutions; work for the common good; and be discussed in a peaceful and respectful manner."

In the final analysis, he said, "no person should feel as though they are unwelcome in our communities of faith."

Having long advocated the solid coordination of bishops across diocesan lines – above all when they share a media market – today's move bears the quiet yet palpable imprint of Burbidge's new neighbor across the Potomac: Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, now the East's principal architect of the docket from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops.

In a markedly ebullient statement released shortly after the appointment was made, Wuerl lauded the Pope for "once again show[ing] his love and care for the Church in our Country" with the Arlington pick.

"With joy we receive this news," the cardinal said, seeing "in Bishop Burbidge a shepherd of the flock who possesses great zeal and has long demonstrated his love for the people entrusted to his pastoral care."

Truth be told, however, the Michael Burbidge now returning up I-95 is a changed man from the one who left the only place he ever knew a decade ago. Back then, Philadelphia might've sent Raleigh a bishop... but it took the newness, challenges, energy – and, indeed, honesty – of a living church to make the pastor who now heads back North.

Even if a rising cathedral captures the work of these years in stone, the crafting of its builder is no less striking a result. And despite being taken from the Triangle before he could enjoy the fulfillment of his efforts, the Dedication Day honors next July 26th will be his nonetheless, as they should be, the successor only to emerge after that point.

Burbidge will be installed in Arlington on Tuesday, 6 December – in the meantime, he's slated to stick around to celebrate the Noon Mass tomorrow (5 October) in his soon-to-be Cathedral of St Thomas More.

Here, video of this morning's presser: