Breaking the Vow of Secrecy in the Conclave

2013 Conclave cardinals walking into St. Peter's

America Magazine in its latest issue has an extended excerpt from a new book by their Vatican correspondent that reveals what happened inside the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis. While this may be interesting for many reasons, it’s also unfortunate since it means one or more people broke a sacred vow.

Everyone who participates in the conclave, whether a cardinal or one of the many Vatican support workers on site, take a vow to maintain the inviolate and secret nature of the process to avoid the sorts of pressures that the selection of the Pontiff has undergone in history. If they are able to deliberate and choose in private, the cardinals are freed from worry that others will now how they voted or that the college was divided or that the new pontiff did not have certain amounts of support or support from particular people in his election. To that end, the Vatican goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure the privacy, from the prosaic like blacking out windows to the sophisticated like using advanced technology to sweep for bugs and block any kind of signals.

So the obvious question is whether this extraordinary breach of trust revealed anything worth mentioning. Read More and Comment

Kicking Old Ladies to the Curb and Catholic Values

elderly woman

According to a news report today, a group of elderly women living in a residence for lower income seniors are being forced out of their homes to make way for younger, more affluent residents by the religious order that has owned the place since the 1940s.

Let’s stipulate that news reports don’t always get the whole story and that this particular one doesn’t have a response from the religious order in it. Here’s the deal: Our Lady’s Guild in Boston has been run by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, whose mother house is in New Britain, Connecticut, since 1947. Its founding charitable aim was to provide safe and affordable housing for single, working, retired, or student women. That last one is key here. And while the order now claims the housing was supposed to be temporary or transitional, they have allowed residents to stay for decades at a time.

In 2012, the order hired a new realty management firm, which began to raise the modest rents. In 2014, long-time residents were informed they would have to move out by the summer of 2018. The property management company also began to advertise higher rents aimed at younger women, prominently international students. The residents have filed a complaint with the city’s fair housing agency that the order is engaged in age discrimination, noting that an ad for renters said it was a residence for women 18 to 50. In 2011, three-quarters of the residents were over 50.

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Reporting Systems are Fine; What We Need is Strong Leadership

Cardinal Seán O'Malley

Cardinal Seán O’Malley is instituting a new system for reporting misconduct by bishops of the Archdiocese of Boston. Of course, it’s mainly symbolic, but it sends a challenge to his brother bishops in the US and beyond to take similar action.

The new phone number and web site is similar to one that was set up in 2011 to report financial misconduct in the archdiocese from a company that specializes in setting up whistleblower systems for corporations and organizations.

At the moment, the only people it covers are the cardinal himself and his auxiliaries and his authority to institute it comes from his sovereign authority as bishop.

And therein lies a problem. The system exists at the will of the man who sits in the chair. Any successor of his could turn it off at a whim. The same is true for every other diocese.

The cure for these situations, like that of Ted McCarrick, the former cardinal and laicized cleric, is not that we need a reporting system. The solution can only come from having leaders willing to take action against those who undermine the Church, steep themselves in sin, and drive the nails through Christ into the cross by their abuse of the innocent or protecting those who do.

Cardinal Seán’s action is a good first step, but there are no easy solutions. What we need is for the Holy Spirit to bring us new strong and Christ-like bishops and for that we can only pray.

When is Bread Not Bread?

Eucharist held in the hand

The upcoming Pan-Amazon Synod for the Catholic bishops of the region has been gaining controversy for some of its controversial proposals, but this one is the worst yet.

One proposal wants to replace the wheat bread used to confect the Eucharist with a bread-like food made from yuca, a starchy tuber that grows in South America, Africa, and Asia. Msgr. Charles Pope sounds the alarm on this one by pointing out that the only valid matter for the Eucharist is bread made of wheat flour and water and nothing else. Not rice, not yuca, nothing.

Like other tubers, yuca can be used to make gluten-free “bread.” But it is not bread — it is merely bread-like. By definition, bread is made with grain. The Church has long been quite specific that the bread for the Holy Eucharist must be made with pure wheat flour. Nothing is to be admixed—no honey, no nuts, no other grains. This purity is necessary for validity.

I recall many years ago attending a Mass in the Diocese of Richmond near Virginia Beach at which the bread used for the Eucharist was leavened with yeast and had honey and, I think even raisins or nuts. It wasn’t good bread and it wasn’t the Eucharist. It was only one of the liturgical abuses present in that Mass.

Anyway, the reason they want to replace actual wheat bread for fake bread in the Amazon is apparently because it’s so humid there that the wheat hosts become mushy and, they claim, no longer bread. So, the bread is no longer bread and must be replaced with something that is not bread either?

We need clear instructions from Rome that this is unacceptable because down this path leads the denial of the sacrament to many of the faithful.

The People Behind the Headlines

I have a neighbor who was in the news a couple of months ago and not for a good reason. Now, to be clear, I don’t know this neighbor personally and only became aware of them the day the news trucks were in front of their house a few streets over. But I do walk by their house every morning on my daily constitutionals.

They were in the news because they were a government employee who allegedly succumbed to temptation and stole public funds. It wasn’t a little bit, but it wasn’t a kingly sum either (given they were living in a small ranch-style house like mine). Still, it was allegedly a crime and a breach of the public trust so I’m not offering any excuses.

The reason I bring this up now is because I see they have suddenly sold their house. I don’t know for certain why—perhaps they had been planning a move all along—but the timing certainly suggests that the sale is not unrelated. Mounting a legal defense is expensive and paying restitution would not be cheap. And given that the person charged with the crime is now out of work and probably unable to get a new job at similar pay, finances are probably tight.

Again, I’m not interested in excusing a crime, even white-collar crime, but I am looking beyond the headlines and news stories to remember that there are people behind every story. People make bad decisions every day, maybe not criminal decisions like these ones are alleged to be, but certainly sinful ones. And we suffer the consequences of those actions. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of other people’s actions, like the family of the accused or another neighbor who recently had an out-of-control driver crash through her house and render it uninhabitable, not to mention the young lady in the car who lost her life.

It’s a reminder to me to remember the news is not a reality show, that there are people in pain and hurting all around. These are people who need prayers and care. I regret that I didn’t know these neighbors and don’t know most of my neighbors despite having lived in this house for a decade now. Such isolation is a symptom of our modern life, of the general disconnection among people who live in this area, and of my own introverted tendencies. I need to remedy that.

I need constant reminders that the people in the news or who go viral on social media or who show up in the comment boxes online are all real people with real struggles who are loved by God and for whom Christ died to save. It seems so simple and yet I often need reminders.

How Scott Hahn Changed the Church

We’ve been doing some major tidying up around our house, which led me to tackling the bookshelves in my office. And that led me to pulling down some of my very old sets of Scott Hahn audiotapes. These date back to the 1980s and include his series on Salvation History as well as a set on the Lamb’s Supper and on the Eucharist.

I still remember my 11-hour drives in the early 1990s back and forth to and from school between home and Steubenville, Ohio, listening to these tapes for hour upon hour. Or before that during my daily commute to work or while I was doing chores at home.1 Then eventually I was able to take some classes with Scott as part of my theology major and to interact with him as a student to teacher.

It was Scott who was a major part of my decision to go to Franciscan University to study theology in the first place. I’d been dithering about going back to school, where to go, and what to study. Then I attended a one-day conference at St. Marie’s parish in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Scott was speaking along with his wife, Kimberly, and Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard. (What a lineup!) In the vendor area, Franciscan University had wisely set up a booth and so, inspired by what I’d heard, I picked up an application and the rest is history. Read More and Comment

We warned them back in 2002, but no one listened

I’m perplexed, too, but not for the same reason. The Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday published a joint expose on all the US bishops who have failed to respond adequately to sexual misconduct in their dioceses and they say they’re perplexed. Meanwhile, Cardinal Seán is also perplexed too.

More than 130 bishops – almost one-third of all living bishops – have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses, according to an examination of thousands of court records, media reports, and interviews with church officials, victims, and attorneys.

“I’m shocked by that number,’’ O’Malley said in an interview at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, responding to the two organizations’ report. “It raises a lot of questions in my mind.’’

As I said, I’m perplexed, but not that 130 of the living bishops (note: that includes retired bishops) have themselves failed to respond adequately. It’s that this is news to anyone.

Because back in 2002 when the Dallas charter was first advanced in the midst of the explosion of the Scandal, both Phil Lawler and I were pointing out that while the charter focused on the tiny percentage of all priests who ever abused a child, the bishops at the time (and ever since) failed to act against the bishops who shuffled them about and ignored the complaints of victims and hushed up lawsuits and paid off families under secrecy shields and all the rest.

In fact, if anything the problem is much less worse because at the time it wasn’t one-third of living bishops who were culpable, but two-thirds of bishops. But time and the Holy Spirit have winnowed that number down through the ultimate means of having them die off.
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Why the SmugMug Flickr cap is bad for the whole Net

When SmugMug bought Flickr from Yahoo earlier this year, many people suspected another shoe was going to drop and now it has: Smug Mug is dropping Flickr’s free tier from 1TB of storage to just 1,000 photos. In addition to being an inconvenience for active users, it has larger implications.

For instance, Melanie​ has long used Flickr to embed photos in her blog posts rather than take up our own previous server space. But once Flickr starts actively killing off any older photos above her 1,000 limit, those embedded photo links will all break. So will we have to start paying $50/year as another expense to keep her blog going?

But there are even wider implications for the web. One of the largest sources of Creative Commons photos online has been Flickr, but many, many of those photos are sitting on old accounts. The internet community is about to lose access to a lot of visual content. Many of the photos you see on Wikipedia, for example, are Flickr photos. The same with many of those public domain stock photos.

Another example is the Archdiocese of Boston’s Flickr page. George Martell and I set that up back in 2009 and it has over 31,000 photos. It is a valuable historical record of the past decade of the Church in Boston. In fact, there are many Catholic sites that rely on Church’s Creative Commons-licensed photos, like Aleteia. They’re going to lose this and I don’t think the folks who are running it at the Archdiocese of Boston now realize what’s about to happen to it.

It’s a shame when invaluable internet resources like this are so dependent on one commercial entity and doubly a shame when they shut down or radically pare back. This is going to be bad for the internet for sure.

Desperately Seeking Bishops

It’s no surprise we have a crisis in leadership in the Catholic Church. Apart from the Scandal that took off in the public consciousness in 2002, the past few months have re-emphasized for us that we lack effective leadership at all levels of the Church, from top to bottom. Wherever you look are men who are often, at best, personally faithful but lacking in other necessary skills.

If we were to start fresh today, what would we need in a Catholic bishop? If we were to look at our seminaries, what should we cultivate in the our future priests and bishops?

First and foremost, they should be faith-filled and holy with a zeal for Christ. That should be a given and really ought to be the minimum we expect from our priests. And in their holiness and zeal, they would strive to follow Christ in the Church’s laws, doctrines, and disciplines.

Second, our bishops need to be leaders, not managers. We need men who will have the ability to lead their priests and laity, to energize them, to marshal them, to impassion them. We don’t need managers, fundraisers, or bureaucrats. We don’t need glad-handers or movers and shakers. We need men who are charismatic and impassioned, who have backbone, and who have clear vision and focus on a singular mission and priority: the salvation of souls. Everything else must serve that goal.

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