The Vatican Thing

The Uses of Presumption?

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

It would be presumptuous, of course, of anyone to offer advice to the College of Cardinals gathered for private discussions with Pope Francis during the two days of the “extraordinary consistory” currently underway. Doubly presumptuous, because who would listen – or read – some random, unofficial figure anyway? So far, details from the first day of the consistory have been quite sparse and general. Which is surprising given the challenges that the Church faces both internally and from an increasingly hostile world. (It’s telling that one of the things we definitely – and significantly – do know is that the… Read more

The Feast of Forgiveness

Monday, August 29, 2022

Pope Francis, love him or not, has a gift – personal charisma. His papacy might have been an indisputably great one if he had stuck mostly with his extraordinary ability to reach out to people – and had avoided theological and moral questions that are manifestly not his strong suit. Case in point: his pilgrimage to L’Aquila in central Italy yesterday for the Feast of Forgiveness was truly moving. He didn’t announce his resignation, as some anticipated. But he did something that might almost serve as a touchstone for his best days as pope. He brilliantly dramatized the need for… Read more

Some Reflections on the New Red Hats

Sunday, August 28, 2022

It doesn’t take a deep historical sense – or an overly romantic imagination – to be moved by the great formal events that the Vatican conducts several times a year. They take you to some other place and time. There’s nothing quite like them in the modern world – (though the British monarchy under the great Elizabeth II, occasionally strikes similar, if lesser notes.) My preference is for the large events held outdoors in St. Peter’s Square under the milky blue Roman skies, which make you think of great public liturgies in ancient Jerusalem and Rome. Yesterday’s ordinary consistories, which… Read more

Late August Stirrings in Rome

Saturday, August 27, 2022

This morning, Deo volente and despite United Airlines, your correspondent is more or less standing, jetlagged but alert, in Rome. It’s an odd time to be here. Ferragosto (named after the August Feast of the Assumption) is Italian vacation time. Virtually everyone is away and many shops, pharmacies, and even restaurants are closed or on reduced schedules. But this year, Pope Francis – who doesn’t take vacations – has decided that over the next five days he will hold an “ordinary consistory” to make 20 new Cardinals, visit L’Aquila (the burial place of Celestine V, the last pope prior to… Read more

Synodal Perils and Possibilities

Monday, August 22, 2022

Pope Francis’ lead-up to the Synod on Synodality is entering the “continental” phase. And this moment raises some serious questions, in particular: Will the “synodal” Church be a politicized, bureaucratized Church? As Catholics tread the synodal pathway to an uncertain future, worrisome signs suggest that could very well happen. The most obvious case in point is of course the German Synodal Path. While the German project is best known for airing views on things like sexual morality and married priests, the vision of a Church functioning on liberal democratic lines through a network of synodal structures and processes could be… Read more

Culture Wars and International Affairs

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Russia’s absurd portrayal of itself as some sort of Christian champion in Ukraine – even as it slaughters thousands and destroys whole cities, has gotten me thinking about something I’ve been ambivalent about for many years: the effect of American popular culture on the rest of the world. I love America. And like all sane people who do, I, therefore, come close to hating much about our current popular culture – starting with the fact that we even have it here at home to export. But there are some crucial distinctions to draw about that now-global U.S. presence. And we… Read more

What Is to be Done?

Monday, April 11, 2022

The question above has been proposed at various times in Russian history. Lenin raised it and believed the obvious answer was Marxist revolution; Tolstoy asked it and found in his efforts to help Moscow’s poor that there was no easy answer, perhaps no answer at all. It’s strange to be in and around the Vatican these days – as a major war is raging – something that hasn’t happened in recent decades and, therefore, puts the same question to inexperienced leaders, Catholic and not. Like poor Tolstoy, they don’t have many answers. Pope Francis has been doing all he can.… Read more

Religion – and the Pope – Still Matter

Friday, April 8, 2022

Visiting with various people in Rome this week, I’ve been struck by the fact that they all understand that religion still matters. Who knew? Almost everyone in the world outside the Western media bubble, of course, which typically regards the religious impulse of the human race as something of a colorful holdover from the past when it crops up, preferably in distant cultures. Closer to home, it’s taken to be a dangerous delusion, the realm of “bitter clingers” and a whole “basket of deplorables,” when traditional Christians and others act as if faith has consequences not only for themselves, but… Read more

The Sciences and Homophiliac Synodality

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Ghanaian who has long been involved in Vatican international activities, was named this week as Chancellor of both the Pontifical Council of Sciences and the Pontifical Council of Social Sciences. Ordinarily, this kind of musical chairs, involving longtime Vatican officials and offices, is only of interest to people who are either clerical careerists themselves or who believe they see salvation or damnation in what are often just murky personnel maneuvers. In this instance, however, much may indeed be at stake for the Church – and maybe even the world. In large part, that’s because Cardinal Jean-Claude… Read more

Seriously, Synodal?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

One of the reasons the current push for synodality worries many people is that it doesn’t seem to have any clear goal - or limits. The official documents and pronouncements seem to hope that the synodal process itself, in its stated ambition to consult widely with people from all over the world (with what success or authenticity remains to be seen), will somehow, against the odds, come up with the program of what the Church now needs globally. It’s not cynical, merely realistic, to believe that a process like this cannot possibly speak to the different situations of the Church… Read more

Who Needs Synodality?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

This not a rhetorical question. Nor is it meant as a flippant dismissal of the subject, like so many Internet responses to things going on in our time. Pope Francis has put a serious matter before the whole Catholic Church – and the whole world. He has claimed that Catholicism is in such deep need of reform that the Church should move “not occasionally but structurally towards a synodal Church, an open square where all can feel at home and participate.” [His emphases in his Opening Address on the Synod on Synodality]. When a pope calls for a radical restructuring of the… Read more

Speaking of the Synod

Thursday, September 9, 2021

They say that in writing, “you must kill all your darlings." For those who don’t fancy themselves writers, what this means is that a writer ought to ruthlessly eliminate pet phrases that, however cute or clever, might distract from the substance or argument of a piece of writing. It’s excellent advice, and hard to follow. For a long time now, ecclesial writing has suffered from a growing number of “darlings” – a multiplication of platitudes, swaddled in jargon, masquerading as prose. (The problem predates this pontificate, for what it’s worth.) The length of official Church documents, you may have also… Read more

Synodality Is What You Make of It

Thursday, July 15, 2021

“Synodality” – a term that has increasingly taken center stage in this pontificate – is a neologism in search of a theology. This is not to say it is a term without any theological meaning; rather, that insofar as the word describes the “shape” Pope Francis sees for the Church in the third millennium, it is a concept still coming into focus. Beginning this October, the Synod of Bishops will turn its attention to these problems in its next assembly under the theme: “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.” Pope Francis is convinced that synodality describes the “shape” the… Read more

Concerning “Synodality”

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

In October next year an assembly of the Synod of Bishops will convene at the Vatican to discuss the whys and hows of a “synodal” Church. Although a synod on synods may at first sound excruciatingly dull, the bishops will be weighing a matter with huge implications for the future of Catholicism. Before proceeding too far down what German Catholic leaders have recently been touting as the “synodal path,” therefore, we would be wise to pause and consider whether synodality, as Pope Francis believes, is just what the doctor ordered for the Church or a poison pill in the making.… Read more