Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Managing Episcopal Appointments

Church of Rome groupies have been avidly following the various actions and statements of the new Pope in an attempt to discern the course of the pontificate to come. Will Benedict be a disciplinarian? Will he reshape the Curia? Will he issue a universal indult for the Tridentine Mass? And will he please, please give us some hint of what he’s going to do with the Church; we’re just aching to know.

But Benedict appears to be both slow to act and hard to read. One source I saw said that all the rumors that were swirling around these days were even more unreliable than they used to be in the days of John Paul because this Pope is a bit of a loner and keeps his own counsel. There were no inside sources who could reveal what the Pope was planning to do because the Pope wasn’t telling anybody what he was going to do.

Of course, all this drives Rome watchers mad. One writer I know was speaking to his parish priest, newly returned to the States from a job with the inner circle in Rome. In response to some inquiry about Roman affairs, the priest told him that “There are no tea leaves....” The writer indignantly told me that everything happens for a reason, for heaven’s sake, and so there must be tea leaves of some sort.

Of course, he’s right, but the tea leaves may not always come in the form of whispered information from those who are in the know. They may appear at the bottom of cups, open for all to see and read as best they can. And there appear to be some tea leaves at the bottom of the cup marked “Episcopal Appointments.” Here is my amateurish reading of them.

If one peruses the tables and columns over at Catholic-Hierarchy.com one notices something about Benedict’s handling of the bishop question--the Pope doesn’t appear to be accepting the resignations which canon law requires from bishops when they turn seventy-five.

Now this isn't universally and invariably true. When Bishop Foley of Birmingham submitted his resignation in the waning days of John Paul II, there was some question as to whether it had in fact been accepted in that Pontificate. Bishop Foley took the position that it hadn’t, until Benedict accepted the resignation on May 10, 2005. David Cheney at Catholic-Hierarchy marks that date as “Retired.”

Similarly, Bishop Angell of Burlington had his retirement accepted on November 9, 2005 and was succeded by his newly appointed coadjutor.

But if one goes to the section marked “United States--Active Bishops Near the Age Limit” one finds a long list of bishops over the age of seventy-five who remain in their sees. Bishop Gossman of Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, says in his diocesan newspaper that he submitted his required resignation on time. This is almost certainly true of the others, too. Bishops are submitting their resignations; they are not refusing to do so as part of some attempt to cling to power. But they are being left in their sees anyway.

This may reflect to some extent the diffidence a seventy-eight-year-old Pope feels about accepting the forced retirements of men who are younger than he. It wouldn’t surprise me, either, if the mandatory retirement of bishops at age seventy-five—a policy first instituted by Paul VI—were not a favorite practice of this rather traditional pontiff.

But if one investigates the tables of Catholic-Hierarachy a bit further, one finds that Pope Benedict has indeed been appointing bishops. He has been appointing them to vacant sees. But those sees have become vacant through retirements accepted under John Paul, retirements where a coadjutor with right of succession is already in place, through the transfer of a bishop from one see to another, through the erection of new dioceses on land detached from another, or through the death of the previous occupant. The lion’s share of them have not fallen vacant because Rome accepted resignations due to mandatory retirement.

It seems to me that a pattern emerges here. Pope Benedict has been slowly and judiciously selecting bishops for vacant sees. But he prefers not to create more vacant ones by accepting resignations when he feels that he has his hands quite full finding good bishops to fill the ones that readily fall vacant for other reasons. Why not just leave the old bishop in place until there is someone to succeed him, rather than leaving a diocese without a bishop?

In this context, the much-puzzled-over retention of Cardinal McCarrick in Washington becomes more understandable. Keeping McCarrick in place need not be understood as a particular endorsement of his Episcopal stewardship. It’s no more than Benedict’s usual practice (so it can now be called) of keeping bishops active and in their sees unless he has a special reason for accepting their resignations and until he has someone who can step into their buskins.

It will be interesting to see if Benedict picks up the pace of episcopal appointments after he has caught up a bit more on vacant sees or if he continues his present approach throughout his pontificate.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"A Beautiful Young Man"

I found this quote from the French novelist and playwright Julien Green on Petra’s Lumen de Lumine blog:

Vater Lamy war ein Mystiker und zweifellos ein Heiliger. Er verstand von Literatur nicht viel (...) er hatte aber den Teufel gesehen, und ich hatte den Leichtsinn, ihn zu fragen, wie er denn ausgesehen habe.
Ohne mir auch nur den Kopf zuzuwenden, sagte Vater Lamy unverzüglich: "Er ist ein schöner junger Mann".

Father Lamy was a mystic and doubtless a saint. He didn’t understand much about literature . . . but he had nevertheless seen the Devil and I made the careless mistake once of asking Father what he had looked like.

Without even turning his head to face me, Father Lamy said without hesitation:

“He is a beautiful young man.”


Petra had the perspicacity to use this quote as a commentary on the publication of the text of the forthcoming document by a Vatican dicastery on the admission of homosexuals to the priesthood.

Most analyses of homosexuality founder because they start from the wrong end of the stick. They start—and it is in many ways a credit to the kind hearts of those who begin this way—with concern for the feelings of those caught up in pain and difficulty because of their lack of physical interest in the opposite sex and their longing for others of their own.

One must rather begin by thinking about what it means that there are no “human beings.” There are only Men and Women. Maleness and Femaleness are not mere features of our nature. Rather, they are the very modes by which we Are.

It is the loss of this understanding that has made it so difficult for people to grasp why women cannot be priests. Surely, men and women in this day and age ought to be able to do all the same things; it’s no more reasonable to bar women from being priests than it is to bar them from being doctors. To think otherwise is mere prejudice, the relic of an age in which division of labor between the sexes was perhaps forced on society by custom and the need for full-time warriors and full-time babysitters.

But whether men and women are suited to pursuing the same secular vocations is a relatively trivial question. Our true vocation in the spiritual realm is far more profound. And the realm of intimacy is part of the spiritual realm, the realm of the deepest level, the realm which touches and shapes who we really are. And none of us are called to be human beings. There are no mere human beings in the spiritual realm, as there are none in the physical. We are all called to be either Men or Women.

There is, of course, a sense in which all the differences between Jew and Greek, male and female are no more, because we are one in Christ Jesus. But the sense of this formulation, both in Galatians 3: 23-29 and in Romans 10: 12-13, is that baptism has made us all one in Christ and our salvation consists in being caught up into his Corporeal Being. We are the same in the Equal Dispensation of Universal Salvation, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.”

But Christ Who is our Redeemer and our Pattern and has gone on before us to prepare a place for us, was and remains today both God and Man, Whose Holy Body bears not only the marks of the Cross, but the signs of the Manhood that is His, now and always. And when the Kingdom is brought to fruition and we have our bodies back in the Last and General Judgment, they will show forth what we truly are at the heart’s core.

This new document examines the question of homosexuality and ordination in terms of “Spiritual Fatherhood.” In order to be a good Father, one must be in no doubt about being a Man. For “Male and Female He created them” in His own image at the Beginning of Time. And Male and Female we will remain forever, into the Ages of Ages. Amen. And ‘Amen’ too to this good and wholesome instruction which we are shortly to receive from the Apostolic See.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

"High They Builded Us"

Years ago, I used to eat occasionally in a Greek restaurant. It wasn’t a very fancy place, but the food was good. It was called the Marathon, and on the walls there were paintings of Arcadian scenes of various kinds from the Land of Homer and Sophocles. The paintings were what you would expect from a “talented” relative of a restaurant owner; they drew the eye, but made one hope the food would come quickly so one would have something else to pay attention to.

There was one large mural of a Greek landscape graced with typical Hellenic ruins. Among those ruins, however, there were no tourists. Instead, veritable Ancient Greeks in togas threw the discus and javelin and walked in pairs, dialoguing Socratically amidst the crumbling blocks of masonry and tilting pillars. Maybe it was the fact that the paintings didn’t bear too much thinking about, or maybe it was just the many vacant bits between my ears where brain tissue should be, but I believe it was several months before I started to realize that SOMETHING wasn’t quite right . . .

Today, I came upon a thumbnail picture of an ancient convent in Tallinn, Estonia, and when I happily clicked on the image to bring it into closer view, it was just a handsome old ruin with windows gaping glassless like the eye-sockets in a memento mori.


Of course: what else could it have been in that lovely little land, which passed centuries ago from under the Croziers of Bishops to the stern Rods of the sages of Reform? Still, the surprise of realizing that I was looking, not at the home of some bustling sisters in black-and-white habits, but instead at a carcass of history made me wonder, as I have before, What if the Catholic Church had vanished from civilization at the time of the Protestant revolution, and not just from certain countries? What if France and Italy, as well as Prussia and Scotland, had found themselves under the gentle guiding hand of the minions of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli? People would be wandering through ruins like Tintern Abbey, dreaming and guessing what life must have been like when real monks and nuns (Imagine!) lived in places like that . . . Just as we roam through the ruins in Attica and Thessaly today, idly peopling them with ethereal figures of pagans out of the deep past, long vanished into the memory of Europe, and wistfully speculating, like children going to sit in Santa’s lap, about the questions we might put to the Sibyl (Teste David cum Sibylla) or the Oracle if only we had the chance.


“’That is true,’ said Legolas. ‘But the Elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the sylvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago.’”

Monday, November 14, 2005

Gather Ye Leeches While Ye May

Gather ye Rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying

sang the Poet.

In middle age, when such fond pursuits seem well past any point, a gatherer may turn to a more useful crop in imitation of Wordsworth's grand old man of Wisdom.

Leeches may cure and leeches may kill. Or they may just annoy. But come all you who labor and are feeling a bit leaden and you won't do any worse than you will in a lot of other places!