Monday, February 25, 2013

Shaping Up Conclave 2013

When Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication from the Chair of St. Peter as of February 28, 2013 at 8 p.m. Rome time, attention started to turn to the College of Cardinals Conclave which would choose the next Vicar of Christ.  While Canon 332 paragraph 2 allows for Roman Pontiff to resign of his free will, this provision of Canon Law had not been exercised in six centuries.  This brought some question in the procedures of succession.

Sede vacante coat of arms

Ordinarily, the papacy becomes sede vacante on the death of the Pope.  It is de rigueur after Pope’s death for the Church to observe a period of mourning and to allow Cardinals from around the world to gather for their duty to act as electors of the next Roman Pontiff.  In the first part of the Twentieth Century, the College of Cardinals acted expeditiously by starting the Conclave ten days after the Pope’s death.

Ten days of sede vacante before a Conclave may have  worked well when there were a three score of Papal Electors and when they were almost exclusively European (N.B. half of the Cardinals were  Italian). But such a speedy conclave was a de facto exclusion of Cardinals who were not in Europe.  This practice  did not take into account that the Catholic Church is world-wide and began to have electors scattered throughout the world.

The only reason that Baltimore Archbishop James Cardinal Gibbons was able to participate in the 1903 Conclave which elected Pope Pius X  was that Gibbons was in Rome during the sede vacante.  A Brazilian Cardinal did participate in the 1914 Conclave which elected Pope Benedict XV, but several American electors were locked out (after all Conclave has its etymological origins in meaning with key) due to ship transports not making it to Rome in ten days.

When two American and a Canadian Cardinals were locked out of the 1922 Conclave which elected Pope Pius XI due to slow transportation, the new pontiff quickly issued the motu proprio Cum proxime which permitted Conclaves to be delayed for another five to eight days to accommodate non-European electors.  According to the 1996 Constitution Universi Dominidi gregis under Pope John Paul II, norms for the papal election were set to allow at least 15 days but no more than 20 day of sede vacante.   But there is a strong case to be made for amending that norm in the case of a planned resignation.

Pope Benedict XVI gave 17 days notice of his intentions, which allowed Cardinals from around the world plenty of time to make their way to Rome.  In fact, a consistory (gathering of Cardinals) will be held on February 28th as a farewell to Benedict XVI which most of the Cardinals are expected to attend.

Recognizing these circumstances, Pope Benedict XVI has issued motu prorpio Normas nunnullas.  This motu proprio empowers the College of Cardinals to hold an earlier Conclave if all of the electors are present and if a majority of the electors agree.  This document does not mandate an early start date but merely empowers the Cardinals if they so choose to do so.

Per Vatican spokesman Rev. Frederico Lombardi, S.J, the date for the Conclave will probably not be decided until March 2nd to March 4th.   If the Conclave started prior to March 15th, electors would have time to deliberate and discern who should be the next Supreme Pontiff and still have time to return to their diocese for Holy Week.  Accelerating the Papal Election timetable is not a sure thing. New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been outspoken for allowing time for the Cardinals to meet informally prior to the Conclave, thus he is not in favor of accelerating the timetable.

While no one knows at this time when the Conclave will convene, the participants are becoming clearer.  Currently, the College of Cardinals is capped at 120 electors.  Canon Law cuts off eligibility upon a Cardinal’s 80th birthday, except if that age is reached during the sede vacante.  When the sede vacante period starts, there will be 117 eligible electors.  Alas for Ukrainian Major Archbishop Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, as he  reaches his 80th birthday February 26th.  But curial German Archbishop Walter Cardinal Kasper celebrates his birthday on March 5th, and Turin’s Archbishop emeritus Severino Cardinal Polletto’s birthday is March 18th, so they both will remain eligible for the Conclave.  The Bishop emeritus of Rome, Josef Cardinal Ratizinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) is over 80 so he is ineligible to vote, but Cardinal Ratzinger will fly off to Castel Gandalfo during hold up at the Papal Retreat during the Conclave, so he will not actively influence the pre-Conclave consisteries.

There are two notable scratches from the Conclave’s roster.  Indonesian Archbishop Julius Cardinal Darmaatmadja, the 78 year old Archbishop emeritus of Jakarta, has announced that he does not plan to participate in the Conclave due to ill health.  Cardinal Darmaatmadja will be permitted to join the Conclave if his ill health resolves.  Scottish Archbishop Keith Cardinal O’Brien, the Archbishop of Edinburgh has just resigned his office amidst accusations of  a sex scandal involving “inappropriate acts” with fellow priests.   O’Brien’s abdication makes him ineligible as a Cardinal-elector for Conclave 2013 and leaves the United Kingdom unrepresentated amongst the voting Conclave.   As it stands, there will only be 115 Cardinal casting ballots.

It should be noted that another important change to the Papal Election during Pope Benedict XVI’s reign is on the required majorities for elections for the Apostolic See.  In Pope John Paul II’s Constitution Universi Dominidi gregis, the initial threshold for electing a Pope was achieving 2/3rds of the Conclaves votes.  However, if a Conclave was deadlocked after ten days of voting, the election threshold was lowered to a simple majority.  

There was speculation by Canon Law  scholars that a prolonged Conclave might inspire some electors to hold out for the change in thresholds to choose a candidate who otherwise would not gain the approval of the 2/3rds majority.  In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio  De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis which reimposed the super-majority 2/3rds votes plus one throughout the Conclave.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lenten Prayer for Transformation

God, our living Creator,
you who draw green shoots from the frozen earth,
you who warm the springtime sleeping in the winter,
look on us, your children, who are sometime frozen in deep ruts,
sometimes far from the dreams you have for us.

You showed Peter, James, and John the dazzling face of Christ.
Inspire us as you did them.

Transform us into the brilliant image of your Son Jesus,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 


Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Faith

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reese's Pieces--Animated Talk About Papal Succession

Elements in the secular media have been interested in the upcoming Papal Conclave, jocularly calling the election for the Supreme Pontiff as Vatican Idol.  But since the Holy See’s ways have two millenia of history behind it, it is prudent to consult with experienced Vaticanologists to understand the process.

 Recently, TheBlaze Radio’s Jay Severin sought out the opinions of Father Tom Reese S.J., a Georgetown University Scholar from the Woodstock Theology Center and the author of
Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.   While Severin as a conservative commentator may not share the Jesuit’s political and liturgical orientation, he could not help but respect Rev. Reese’s knowledge of the byzantine bureaucracy of Vatican City, which he acquired by interviewing more than a hundred Vatican officials for his book.

Severin, who is not a Catholic, believes that this Papal succession could be globally game changing, especially if the new Vicar of Christ “went big” and took an active role on the world stage.  Father Reese chose to illustrate the qualities of the immediate predecessors to the prospective new Pope.  Pope Benedict XVI was expected to be scholarly and concentrating on theology.  As for Pope John Paul II, his pastoral and theological qualities were eclipsed by his formidable presence on the public stage and his numerous foreign pilgrimages.

It was observed that  some of Pope Benedict’s views on secular politics could seem quite radical.  In fact, Reese astutely analyzed that the religious right would embrace B-XVI’s social pronouncements (perhaps on traditional marriage or being pro-life) but his fiscal philosophies and drive for world government would alienate the Tea Party.  So American political shorthand does not always translate when evaluating the Holy See.

Peter Cardinal Turkson
Many prognosticators in the Lamestream Media have been broadcasting a drumbeat for an African Pope, such as Cardinal Peter Turkson (Archdiocese of Cape Verde, currently Curia President of the Pontifical Council of Peace and Justice), the gregarious Ghanan who is the talk amongst papabili Reese’s answer concentrated on the process of discerning, especially the informal encounters up to and during the Conclave.

While illustrative of the decision making process, punters will not be added in placing their bets at Paddy Power with Reese’s answer.

Severin persiverates on the tenant that new Pope could be in an unique position to denounce Islamofascism as an abomination to all people of faith around the world.  Reese is quick to diffuse any notions that the Pope would call for a new Crusade.

Rev. Reese pointed to the persecution that the Chaldean Catholic Church has faced in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq which is causing many Chaldeans to flee.  In this short interview, Fr. Reese also failed to mention how Palestinians have driven away most of the Arab Catholics from the Holy Land and how the Palestinians have been arrogating holy sites of Jews and Christians in Israel but not respecting freedom of worship and religious pluralism.

This Blaze colloquy was playful in tone, yet it deftly alluded to the inside observations on how Popes are chosen, without resorting to favorite son speculations or trotting out grievances of alienated ex-Catholics or frustrated Church progressives.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Archbishop Oscar Romero Speaks About the Truth

Óscar Romero was the fourth bishop of San Salvador, El Salvador.  He led the church there during a turbulent time.  Progressives bemoaned his appointment in 1977, as his conservative reputation did not align with priests openly favoring Marxism.  But Romero’s weltanschauung became shaped by the estrangement of secular governments to the faith.  Moreover, when the Revolutionary Government right wing junta came to power in 1979, Archbishop Romero dared to speak up against human rights abuses, poverty, social injustice, torture and assassinations.

Divine Provence Chapel after Romero's assassination
Archbishop Romero was assassinated as he elevated the chalice of Divine Blood while celebrating Mass at “La Divina Provincia" Chapel in San Salvador on March 24th, 1980.  Monsenior Romero was fatally shot one day after he urged 
Salvadoran soldiers to be Christians and stop carrying out the government’s agenda of repression and basic human rights. 

{Actual audio of Archbishop Romero's assassination 03/24/1980}

At the martyred prelate’s funeral, the representative of the Holy See Mexico City Archbishop Ernesto Cardinal Corripio y Ahumada eulogized Romero as “a beloved, peacemaking man of God” and that “his blood will give fruit to brotherhood, peace and hope.”  Alas, these words were uttered as the crowd of 250,000 mourners were pelted with smoke bombs and were shot at by rifles from rooftops, with between 30 and 50 fatalities. 

In La Violencia Del Amor (The Violence of Love) , a collection of Archbishop Óscar Romero’s teachings, he seemingly anticipated the suffering that the Church needed to endure to remain faithful and challenge secular society to follow divine teaching.

La iglesia tiene que sufrir por decir la verdad, por señalar el pecado, para arrancar de raíz el pecado. Nadie quiere tener un punto delicado tocado, y por lo tanto una sociedad con tantas llagas tics cuando alguien tiene el coraje de tocar y decir: 'Hay que tratar eso. Hay que deshacerse de eso. Creer en Cristo. Convertíos'.

The church must suffer for speaking the truth, point out sin, to uproot sin. Nobody wants to have touched a sore spot, and therefore a society with so many sores twitches when someone has the courage to touch and say, 'You have to try that. We must get rid of it. Believing in Christ. Repent '. 

While Archbishop Romero was martyred by a right wing paramilitary, the Church may have to stand firm against militant secularism and progressive praetorianism. 

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

As he gave the Keynote to a College of Cardinal's meeting at St. John Lateran's Basilica in February 2012, New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan deflected any insinuations of glory that some might associate with being a  a cardinal.   Dolan, the jocular President of the U.S. Council of Catholic bishops jested: 

"Holy Father, can you omit the 'shedding of your blood' when you present me with the biretta?" 
The pope responded-- "Of course not! We are but 'scarlet audio-visual aids' for all of our brothers and sisters also called to be ready to suffer and die for Jesus." 

This is a reminder of Archbishop Romero’s witness to the truth to the point of his death.

With Western progressive governments pushing same sex marriage, broad ability to divorce and liberal abortion, leaders in the Church who wish to defend traditional, scripturally inspired societal practices which chaff against the current.  Moreover, the application of Obamacare’s HHS Qualified Health Plan Contraception Mandate is anathematic to following their faith as well as the natural right of free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the Constitution. 

The fervency of faith and fearlessness for speaking the gospel certainly ought to be qualities considered when the College of Cardinals has its mid-March conclave in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's abdication,[Ed. note which eventually chose Pope Francis].

POST SCRIPTUS 02/03/2015  Pope Francis has decreed that Oscar Romero, the slain Archbishop of El Salvador, is a martyr for the faith.  A date has not been set for Blessed Oscar Romero's beatification.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pure Expressions of Love Need Not Be Puritan

Granted, they did not celebrate Christmas either. These pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock were so fortified by their aesthetic faith that they left their native land to escape the pageantry and excessive "popery" of the Church of England.

It is rather ironic that one of the biggest contemporary companies that capitalizes on Valentine's Day guilt gifts is located in New England--The Vermont Teddy Bear Company

Rick Warren on Love

Rick Warren Love

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Big Easy Catechetics

As the Church enters into the penitential season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, the faithful are encouraged to engage in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  

One of the Lenten disciplines which can confuse Catholics is culinary abstinence which is required of all on Ash Wednesday as well as all Fridays of Lent.  This is generally understood as no meat (red meat, pork or poultry).  But what about alligator? 

Those in the "Big Easy" Archdiocese fare better than downriver Detroiters in circumventing Lenten Fast rules.  Due to a historical dispensation, the Archdiocese of Detroit allows their flock to "enjoy" muskrat.  

Detroit originally was a French city founded by the Marquis du Cadillac in 1701.  After the French and Indian Wars, the French surrendered Fort Ponchatrain du Detroit to the British in 1760 and it later became American territory after  the Jay Treaty of 1796.

  At the start of the Nineteenth Century, Father Gabriel Richard noticed that his Northwest Territories flock was not faring well during the Lenten fast with no flesh.  Since many area Catholics were from French-Canadian trapper stock, Fr. Richard engaged in some catechetical casuistry as he reasoned that since muskrats were aquatic animals then they should be considered fish-like for Lenten purposes. 

Chef Johnny Kowslowski & muskrat meal
To this day, downriver suburbs of Detroit have a historical dispensation for consuming muskrat during Lenten dietary disciplines.  Muskrat, much like alligator, is said to have to consistency of chicken, except the rodent is said to have a "unique" taste.  The best sounding recipe requires a marinade in French liqueur which supposedly makes it edible. 

Fr. Gabriel Richard is well known for penning the phrase "Seramus meliora; resurgent cineribus" ("We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes").  The city of Detroit took that as it's motto after it burnt down in 1805.  Yet I also connect the phrase to the option of eating muskrat. 

Personally, the big easy for celebrating the Lenten season would involve  a Wisconsin Fish Fry.  But vive la difference and roulez les bonnes temps.

Prayer at the Commencement of Our Lenten Journey

Jesus, beloved friend,
you call us to a season of growth and repentance.
You have high hopes for us;
may we not disappoint you.
May we see your face ahead of us,
beaming at the end of our Lenten journey.
Give us the strength and energy to run
towards you during this season.
Give us the integrity and generosity in each new challenge.
We ask this of you who lives and reigns 
with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
                ~ Anonymous

Meditation on Ash Wednesday

Fingernails scrubbed clean as latrines
in the army, this symbol
of a man dirties his thumb
with our skin, the powdery ash riding high
on his pores, not sinking in
before he sketches the gray
of our dirt-birth across a brow
we were born to furrow.

Listen to the sound of forgiveness:
the crossing of skin, the cult-
like queuing up to explode
in ripped whispers, “Lord,
have mercy, Lord, have
mercy, Lord, have mercy.”

And we want it. And we take it
home with us to stare back
from a lover’s forehead,
to come off in a smear on the sheets
as we roll onto each other’s skin,
or to wear like a bindhi this medal of our not winning
each day we wake to the worlds
we are and are not.

And when we wake too early
before the light of just-becoming-day
sneaks in on us, and we stand lonely, deceived
into piety, scrubbing away the grime of our humanness
like fierce fierce toothbrushes on latrines
in the army, there it is still,
raw with our washings:
the human beneath.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Shocking Coincidence on Vatican Hill?

On the same day the Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign his role as the Vicar of Christ on February 28th, lightning struck St. Peter's Basilica on Vatican Hill in Rome.

Is this symbolic or just a coincidence?

A Catholic Celestine Prophecy?

Pope Benedict XVI visiting St. Peter Celestine's Tomb

A little noted pilgrimage by Pope Benedict XVI may have served as a Catholic Celestine Prophecy.  In April 2009, Pope Benedict stopped in Alquila, Italy to visit the tomb of St. Peter Celestine, an obscure medieval pope.  Then fifteen months later, Pope Benedict XVI went out of his way to visit the Sulumoa Cathedral outside of Rome and pray before the relics of Celestine V. Who was St. Celestine V?

In 1294, Fr. Pietro Agelerio was a 79 year old monk  who was elected Pope somewhat against his will.  The reluctant pontiff Celestine V had just a five month reign, during which time he issued a formal decree which allowed Popes to abdicate.  Pope Celestine V exercised that right.

When Benedict XVI paid his respects at Celestine V's tomb, he laid his pallium, the symbol of his episcopal authority, on the sarcophagus of this  This is more honor than Dante gave to Celestine V who placed him in the third circle of hell for not being decisive.

In retrospect, papal watchers should have appreciated these gestures from this scholarly pope that it forshadowed Pope Benedict XVI's openness to abdication.

Pope Benedict XVI's pallium 

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

Benedict XVI upon his election April 19, 2005 [AP photo: Domenico Stinellis]

It was a shock to the world the Pope Benedict XVI (ne Josef Ratzinger) offered a letter of resignation today from the Papacy during a consistory which was just slated to canonize three saints.  Benedict XVI was elected pope April 19, 2005 and at age 78 was the oldest Pope elected to the Chair of St. Peter.  Cardinal Ratizinger had developed a reputation as a doctrinaire  Rottweiler as he headed the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the office of  Holy Inquisition) during most of Pope Blessed John Paul II’s  26 ½ year reign . Benedict XVI surprised critics as being a gentle German Shepherd during his nearly eight year tenure leading the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation will take effect as of February 28, 2013 8 pm Rome time. There will be a two week period when it will sede vacante and then the College of Cardinals will meet to vote on who will become the next Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI Crest
Pope Benedict XVI had hinted at the possibility of resigning during an interview with a German journalist in 2010 if he did not feel that he was physically or mentally capable of fulfilling the mission of the papacy.  Some had speculated that Benedict XVI might resign at the conclusion of the Year of Faith, which is slated to end November 24th.  Yet Benedict XVI heeded his prayerful examination of conscience and chose the end of February.  This could be symbolic as February 28th is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes which is also the Church’s World Day of the Sick.  However the date also coincides with the signing of the Lateran Pacts (1929), when the Republic of Italy recognized the sovereignty and independence of the Vatican City state.

In his letter of resignation, Pope Benedict XVI noted:

 After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. 


Generally, the Papacy is considered a calling to one's Earthly end.  Pope Blessed John Paul II's difficult health decline from Parkinson's Disease and the effects of his 1981 assassination attempt was a object lesson on the dignity of human life and natural death, the redemptive value of suffering and some might argue martyrdom.  One can draw lessons from Pope Benedict XVI's  "intentional grounding" as a selfless act which demonstrates humility and the desire to best serve the Lord in building the Kingdom of God.