Vie de l'église

Within minutes of the announcement…

Within minutes of the announcement of the death of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday morning, a wealth of tributes flowed in from around the world, while the Vatican revealed that the late pontiff would be given a « simple » funeral, celebrated by Pope Francis, in keeping with his wishes.

Words of praise and fond remembrance were offered by world leaders and religious figures, including the archbishop of Canterbury and Jewish advocates.

But some others, including LGBTQ+ advocates, were restrained in marking the passing of 95-year-old Benedict, Before being elected pontiff in 2005, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he had long served as the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, ensuring unwavering orthodoxy on issues including homosexual activity, which the Catholic church considers a sin.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said that Francis will celebrate a solemn funeral in St. Peter’s Square on Thursday with rites that, « following the desire of the pope emeritus, will be carried out in the sign of simplicity. »

Benedict spent two more years in papal retirement than in the actual papacy, which had begun in 2005. Benedict died in the austere Vatican monastery where he had resided since shortly after shocking the world by retiring in 2013. Frail for years, Benedict’s health worsened earlier in the week, according to the Vatican.

Starting on Monday, the faithful will be able to file by his body in St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the midst of the mourning, Francis was going ahead with traditional year-end ceremonies, including a Vespers service early Saturday evening in St. Peter’s Square and a New Year’s Day Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Catholic church dedicates Jan. 1 to the theme of peace, a subject dear to Francis, who has repeatedly decried Russia’s war in Ukraine and other longer-running conflicts in the world.

Francis would also keep to his tradition of strolling by the life-size creche scene in the square, the Vatican said.

While that appearance is usually joyful, Benedict’s death hours earlier in the day was expected to bring a more subdued mood.

As the death announcement came, quietly by email from the Vatican press office, hundreds of tourists were admiring a towering Christmas tree in the square, many unaware that Benedict had died in his secluded residence in the Vatican Gardens.

Benedict « prayed in silence, as one should do, » said Fabrizio Giambrone, a tourist from Sicily who recalled the late pontiff as a « very good person » who lacked the « charisma » of his predecessor, St. John Paul II, and of his successor, Pope Francis.

Laura Camila Rodriguez, 16, visiting from Bogota, Colombia, with her parents, said she was traveling on a train bound for Rome earlier on Saturday when she learned of Benedict’s death.

« It was a shock, but it’s probably good for him that he can now rest in peace, at his age, » she said. « I think Francis is a good pope, he was a good successor, able to head the Catholic Church. »

While the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica didn’t toll to mark the death announcement, in the somber air in the small Bavarian town where Ratzinger was born in 1927, church bells tolled solemnly at St. Oswald Church in Marktl am Inn, a German town near the Austrian border.

In Krakow, one of Poland’s oldest and biggest church bells that is used to mark events of national significance, the Sigismund Bell, tolled at noon, and a special Mass for Benedict was planned for that city’s Wawel Castle Cathedral in Benedict’s honor later on Saturday.

Poland is a heavily Roman Catholic country where a conservative government is in power. President Andrzej Duda tweeted that Benedict is « one of the most outstanding theologians of the 20th and 21st century. » He called Benedict’s teachings a « guidepost among the many winding and deceptive paths of the contemporary world. »

The American Jewish Committee in a statement from New York praised Benedict for having « continued the path of reconciliation and friendship with world Jewry blazed by his predecessor, John Paul II. » The organization noted that the German-born Catholic church leader had « paid homage in Auschwitz » to the victims of the Holocaust and had made an official visit to Israel.

« He condemned antisemitism as a sin against God and man, and he emphasized the unique relationship between Christianity and Judaism, » the statement said.

Praise for Benedict’s religious devotion came from the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. « In his life and ministry, Pope Benedict XVI directed people to Christ, » the Anglican leader tweeted.

« I join with Pope Francis and all the Catholic Church in mourning his death. May he rest in Christ’s peace and rise in glory with all the Saints. »

Dubbed « God’s Rottweiller » for his fierce defense of Catholic teaching in the decades that he led the Vatican doctrinal orthodoxy office, Benedict was viewed less enthusiastically by some for his stance on homosexuality and against women’s desire to break with the church’s ban on female priests.

In that role, Ratzinger « had an outsized influence on the Church’s approach to gay and lesbian people and issues, » said Francis De Bernardo, executive director of the U.S.-based New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ+ Catholics. He noted that Ratzinger in 1986 helped shape a document that called homosexual orientation as « an objective disorder » and his involvement in a 1994 Catechism describing sexual activity between people of the same gender as « acts of grave depravity. »

« Those documents caused — and still cause — grave pastoral harm » to many LGBTQ+ people, De Bernardo said, while noting that his organization was praying for the repose of Benedict’s soul.

Francis has used his papacy to try to set a less judgmental tone against gay Catholics.

While hailing Benedict’s « profound example of humility and willingness to overturn tradition » by resigning, advocates for opening up the priesthood to women expressed dismay over his refusal to embrace their aims.

« For many Catholics, Pope Benedict’s papacy is a chapter of our church’s history that we are still healing from, » said Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference. « His relentless pursuit to stifle the movement for women’s ordination revealed a man unwilling or unable to engage with the urgent needs of the church today. »

Nicola Zolezzi, 58, on vacation from Genoa, Italy, with his family, said he was sorry to learn of Benedict’s death while heading to St. Peter’s Square.

« Maybe he wasn’t that close to the people like Francis or John Paul II, but I think he was a good person and carried out his role well, » he said.

Still, Zolezzi added that « we still wonder what was the real reason behind his decision to leave. »

Benedict had explained that he was relinquishing the papacy because he felt he know longer had the strength to adequately shepherd the Catholic church and its then 1.2 billion members.

Paolo Santalucia in Vatican City, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Geir Moulson in Berlin, contributed to this story. 

Vie de l'église

In his first public remarks since…

In his first public remarks since retired Pope Benedict XVI’s death on Dec. 31, Pope Francis praised the late pope’s kindness and sacrifice, saying Catholics around the world should be grateful for the example he set, both as pope and in retirement. 

« Speaking of kindness at this time, the thought goes spontaneously to the dearly beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who left us this morning, » said Francis at a Dec. 31 prayer service at the Vatican. « With emotion we remember his person, so noble, so kind. And we feel in our hearts so much gratitude. »

« Gratitude to God for having given him to the Church and to the world; gratitude to him, for all the good he accomplished, and especially for his witness of faith and prayer, especially in these last years of his retired life, » Francis continued. « Only God knows the value and strength of his intercession, of his sacrifices offered for the good of the Church. »

The Te Deum (« We praise Thee, O God ») prayer service takes place each year on Dec. 31 at the Vatican and was already scheduled prior to the announcement of retired Pope Benedict XVI’s death earlier in the day. Attendees at the prayer service were given copies of the Vatican’s daily newspaper with the headline: « The Lord has called to Himself. »

The retired pope died at 9:34 a.m. Central European Time at age 95, four days after Pope Francis announced the news on Dec. 28 that Benedict XVI was « very sick » and called on Catholics from around the world to offer prayers for him. 

Benedict XVI was elected pope on April 19, 2005 until he resigned on February 28, 2013, becoming the first pope to voluntarily abdicate the papacy in nearly 600 years. Prior to becoming pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the German theologian served as Pope John Paul II’s head of the Vatican’s doctrine office for nearly 30 years. 

A funeral Mass for retired Pope Benedict XVI will take place on Jan. 5 and will be presided over by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. 

Vie de l'église

Retired Pope Benedict XVI’s health…

Retired Pope Benedict XVI’s health remains stable, the Vatican said on Dec. 30, just two days after Pope Francis called on Catholics from around the world to offer prayers for what he described as a « very sick » former pontiff. 

« Last night the pope emeritus was able to rest well, » said Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni in a statement released at 3pm local time on Dec. 30. 

« Yesterday afternoon he participated in the celebration of Holy Mass in his room, » it continued. « At the present moment, his condition is stable. »

Bruni’s update was the second official update provided by the Vatican on the 95-year-old’s health within the last two days, indicating that the retired pope’s condition continues to remain serious, but has stabilized. 

On the afternoon of Dec. 30, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general for the Diocese of Rome, celebrated a special Mass for Benedict XVI at the Papal Archbasilica of Saint John  Lateran, the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome. 

« Benedict XVI has always shown great trust in providence, » said De Donatis in his homily, describing the retired pope as a « collaborator of truth and joy, of love for Christ and the Church. »

The cardinal went on to praise the retired pope for his « profound communion » with Pope Francis, highlighting Benedict XVI’s reputation’s both as a noted theologian and a man of deep spiritual wisdom.  

« He shows us at this moment, as he has done in the last ten years, that he who believes is never alone, » he continued. « Even in old age and in sickness, one continues to sustain humanity by the offering of oneself. »

Since news of his health deterioration was first announced earlier this week, the retired pope has remained at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery inside the Vatican, where he has lived since he resigned the papacy in 2013. 

Benedict XVI was elected pope on April 19, 2005 until he resigned on February 28, 2013, becoming the first pope to voluntarily abdicate the papacy in nearly 600 years. Prior to becoming pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the German theologian served as Pope John Paul II’s head of the Vatican’s doctrine office for nearly 30 years. 

As he concluded his homily, De Donatis said that the prayers for the retired pope are « a sign of vitality and communion in the church. »

« Whenever he wills, God will draw near to this brother in his sleep and say, ‘Joseph, arise,' » he said. « And it will be Christ and his mother who will take him into paradise, where the dream of a lifetime will become the reality of eternity. »

La chaine de KOFC

A Bed of One’s Own

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La chaine de KOFC

Boston Knights Deliver Coats to Kids in Need

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Vie de l'église

On Christmas Day, Joliet’s…

On Christmas Day, Joliet’s Catholic bishop introduced himself to the 11 men attending the 10:15 a.m. Mass at the Joliet Treatment Center.

« I’m Bishop Ron Hicks of the Diocese of Joliet, » he said. « I grew up at 155th and Woodlawn. I’ve been a priest for 28 years, a bishop for four years, with two years here in Joliet. It’s a great blessing for me to be here with you today. »

« Here » was the library in the vocational building of the 55-acre site located on the city’s southwest side that treats male inmates diagnosed with mental illness from Illinois Department of Corrections prisons located across the state.

Fr. Louis « Louie » Tosto, senior chaplain for the center, said staff treat a diversity of conditions among the residents of the more than 400-bed facility, including bipolar disorder, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hicks said when Louie invited him more than six months ago to celebrate Mass at the center, he immediately said « yes. »

« With this visit, I represent the entire Catholic Church, » he said. « This is where we are supposed to be. We are the face of Christ. »

As the 11 men filed into the blue- and yellow-painted room lined with books and flanked by two security cameras in the ceiling, Hicks greeted each one with a fist bump and a « Merry Christmas. »

The men varied in age and ethnicity, and all chose to skip the « chow » line to attend Christmas Mass with the bishop.

A 29-year-old man with shoulder-length red hair thanked the sixth prelate of the diocese.

« It’s a blessing for you to take time — someone of your high prestige — to come here. I’ve been here four years and I’ve never seen anything like this, » he said to Hicks, adding, « I’m not a very good Catholic. »

« You’re here, » Hicks said.

In his homily, Hicks expanded upon that shared Catholic faith by reflecting on the recent film rendition of the story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who longed to be a real boy. Hicks said when a priest friend suggested he watch the newest version of the traditional children’s tale, he at first rejected the idea.

But he changed his mind, and discovered elements of faith, spirituality and theology in the film: A crucifix hangs on the wall of the bedroom shared by Geppetto and Pinocchio, and the two attend Mass at the Catholic church in the village.

A pivotal scene occurs when Geppetto and Pinocchio are in the church alone, as the carpenter repairs the broken crucifix behind the altar, Hicks said.

« Pinocchio points to the crucified Jesus, and says, ‘Papa, there is something I don’t understand,' » Hicks recalled from the film. « ‘Why is it everyone loves him? Everyone likes him. He’s made of wood, I’m made of wood. Why is it no one loves me?’

« And Geppetto tells Pinocchio, ‘They don’t love you because they don’t know you yet,' » Hicks said.

That feeling of being unlovable is part of the human condition, Hicks told the men, yet « it’s a lie that’s planted deep and dark inside every one of us. »

« You’re lovable and you’re likable because you — we — are all made in the image of God. We’re beloved, and we’re loved unconditionally.

« You may think, ‘Does God know what I’ve done?' » Hicks said. « Yes, he knows everything about you, and you are still beloved. »

He then asked and answered questions universal to Catholicism and Christianity.

« Are you lovable? Yes. Are you likable? Yes. Is salvation yours? Yes. Where does it come from? It comes from the birth of Jesus that we celebrate today. »

The men applauded.

Vie de l'église

In an end-of-the year decision,…

In an end-of-the year decision, the Supreme Court said Dec. 27 that a federal public health rule that allows immigration officials at the border to quickly turn away migrants seeking asylum could stay in place while legal challenges to the policy played out.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices stopped a trial judge’s ruling that would have lifted the measure, known as Title 42 of the Public Health Services Act, on Dec. 21.

Chief Justice John Roberts had already put that order on pause Dec. 19 responding to an emergency request filed by 19 states asking the justices to keep Title 42 in place.

The Trump administration used the public health measure during the pandemic to allow U.S. border officials to expel migrants quickly without giving them an opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.

« Our hearts (are) broken by this decision and the many people that will be further harmed because of it, » tweeted the Interfaith Immigration Coalition Dec. 27.

They said that as people of faith, they were calling on President Joe Biden to « do everything in his power to welcome people seeking safety with the compassion they deserve. »

The justices agreed to hear arguments about enforcement of Title 42 at the border in February. In their brief unsigned order, they said the rule will remain in place for now and they will only consider whether the states challenging it have the legal right to do so.

In a dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, emphasized that the Biden administration and Congress have failed to adequately address the immigration crisis and also said the nation’s high court is not meant to issue policies.

He said he did not discount concerns raised by the state attorneys general and also acknowledged that lifting Title 42 « will likely have disruptive consequences, » but he said the reason it was enforced, as a public health measure, is no longer valid.

« The current border crisis is not a COVID crisis, » he wrote, adding that the courts « should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort. »

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan indicated they would have allowed the federal judge’s ruling ending Title 42 to stand, but they did not join the dissent.

Title 42 gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the power to bar the entry of individuals into the United States to protect the public from contagious diseases.

The Biden administration initially extended the policy used by the Trump administration but in April it announced that it would end it, saying it was no longer necessary to protect public health.

A federal judge in Louisiana said the administration had not followed proper procedures in trying to end Title 42 and ordered that it stay in place. The administration has appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, where it remains pending.

In a separate case, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the policy itself was illegal and ordered the government to end it, which was challenged by 19 states with Republican attorneys general.

After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the states’ request to join the case, the states came to the Supreme Court urging the court to keep the policy in place and saying that lifting it would « cause a crisis of unprecedented proportions at the border. »

Migrant families challenging the policy say the states’ support for Title 42 is not based on pandemic concerns. They also said the policy has had a devastating impact on those forced to return to « cartels and others ready to abduct and exploit them. »

Migrant advocates, including Catholic church organizations, women religious and Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee, have strongly supported ending Title 42.

Texas border cities, like El Paso, had been preparing for the surge of new migrants as the pandemic-era rule was scheduled to end.

In mid-December, Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute, a Catholic organization helping migrants, said constant changing policies make it hard for organizations such as his to plan.

« You have a lot of pent-up pain, » he told The Associated Press, noting that with government border policies in disarray, « the majority of the work falls to faith communities to pick up the pieces and deal with the consequences. »

In October, Seitz issued a statement expressing his disappointment that Title 42 had been expanded to Venezuelans seeking to cross the border.

« Now we must all work harder, especially the faith community, to build a culture of hospitality that respects the dignity of those who migrate, and to continue to press lawmakers and the Biden administration to establish a safe, humane, functioning and rights-respecting system to ensure protection to those in need, » he said.

Vie de l'église

At the Celstrum Biosphere Reserve,…

A few months ago, I traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula to learn about Melipona honey bees, but the birds of the Celstrum Biosphere Reserve taught me a different lesson. A beekeeper from Chicago, I was enchanted by the symphony of biodiversity around me and the protection this ecosystem offered to migratory species seeking refuge far from their now dangerous homes.

When I visited the reserve for the first time, a slate-blue wingspan sailed into the water hole in front me, then stood on one, bony leg like a poised marionette. I knew this bird. This wasn’t the roseate spoonbill or the yellow-lored parrot I had hoped to witness, but a great blue heron, a bird I often admired while hunched silently by the edges of Lake Michigan, miles from these jungles of southern Mexico.

My guide told me that the great blue heron, at least east of the American Rockies, is migratory — with some journeying to the Caribbean, Central America or northern South America, by day or night, alone or in flocks. I was surprised and happy to see something familiar in an unfamiliar setting.

The heron’s cobalt plumage and wingspan powered through many miles to be in this ecological sanctuary. I now marvel with this memory alongside the feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28.

I wonder about the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt after the angel warned Joseph of Herod’s plan to slaughter children. I imagine Mary awakening in the middle of the night on the desert journey to the cries of her newborn, and these two parents wading across the Nile, retracing the steps of Exodus in reverse, evading border patrol for a better life — a refuge — yet haunted by families ambushed by Herod’s massacre in the neighborhoods of Bethlehem.

I dislike that the angel didn’t warn the other families. I dislike that innocence is the only thing these children had to offer in the « good news » of the Gospel. This is a hard story to pray with.

There are no great blue herons in Egypt. But like so many migrants both human and non-human, the great blue heron knows what it means to travel long and far to be somewhere safe, for their own sake and that of their offspring.

The National Audubon Society field guide notes that spring heat waves endanger young birds in their nests, and wildfires in the north incinerate their habitat. I see a kinship in the heron’s migrations and that of the Holy Family — one that I want to push beyond metaphor as I mourn the heron eggs that will never hatch and the children left behind to be massacred in Bethlehem. This is an interspecies grief.

And I don’t grieve alone. I find a companion in the story of the Holy Innocents, in the following words of scripture: « Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more » (Matthew 2:17-18).

I love that Rachel refuses to be comforted in the face of an extinction. To refuse comfort in the face of grief isn’t a denial of tenderness, but a determination that one must feel what one is feeling in acknowledgment of intense loss. If this is how we are to grieve extinction — of an entire generation of children or of another species — then we must grieve freely. We must carry on with the hard stories we inherit. Hard stories that accompany us during hard realities.

The Celstrum Biosphere Reserve is quite different from the Egyptian desert to where Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled. But because of its diversity of coastal dunes, shallow continental marine platform, mangroves, lagoons, marshes and low rainforests, 1,150 species seek it out as a habitat, including 304 resident and migratory birds, according to UNESCO. Among them are the threatened plumbeous kite and brent goose, the endangered muscovy duck and the piping plover.

The great blue heron, once often shot as an easy target according to the Audubon field guide, is not among those birds under threat of extinction. In part that is thanks to reserves like this one where the bird flies to safety. Here the great blue heron and I share the sky and the water. We share peace born of discomfort, while acknowledging the privilege it is to be able to take flight.

Vie de l'église

In the first part of his year-end…

The year 2022 in the Catholic world was dominated by significant shifts in the intellectual and ecclesial landscape, accompanied by shockingly few shifts among key personnel in the Vatican Curia and at the headquarters of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Pope Francis continues to invite the church to try new approaches with the goal of retrieving our tradition more fruitfully, even while here in the United States he encounters a great deal of opposition.

Synodality was the biggest story of 2022 — or it might be. The process has begun and no one is sure how it will end, but already we are seeing signs of its effect.

As NCR board member Jim Purcell, who was heavily involved in the synodal process in his parish and diocese, noted, « I have witnessed again and again the animating power of the Holy Spirit that is at the heart of a synodal church. » Again and again, people reported how nice it was to feel listened to, how for many it was the first time anyone had asked for their input.

The practice in the U.S. church for most of the 20th and early 21st centuries has been for the bishops to consult among themselves and then tell the rest of us what they concluded was for our own good. The pattern was set by Pope Pius X in his 1906 encyclical letter Vehementer Nos, in which he declared, « The one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors. »

The funny thing is that for synodality to work, we all need to learn to be docile to the Holy Spirit, and the pastors need to learn this, too. The American penchant for pragmatism and our contemporary predilection to activism are as much a hurdle to effective synodality as is the history of exclusively hierarchic governance.

We should also be concerned that the disdain for synodality shown by some prominent conservatives and by the conservative Catholic media conglomerate EWTN risks underrepresenting the voices of the millions of conservative Catholics.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did a fine job collating the various diocesan synodal reports, as well as the report from Region XVI, which grouped various non-diocesan lay organizations.

The final report was overseen by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and it showed: Flores is a conservative thinker with a pastoral heart, very much sympathetic with Francis but equally at home among the ideas and cultural attitudes found in prior pontificates.

It was shocking Flores did not get more votes in the November election for the bishops’ conference presidency. Instead, the worst remaining remnant of the John Paul II era, a protégé of the late Cardinal Angelo Sodano, is in charge. Archbishop Timothy Broglio’s election as president of the conference was dispiriting, unless you are a right-wing plutocrat like Tim Busch or conservative apparatchik like Leonard Leo. Busch recently posted a picture of him dining with both Broglio and Leo and a gaggle of other clergy at a high-end Italian restaurant in D.C. Adults are free to dine with whomever they wish, but the fact that Busch posted the picture was revealing.

At a press conference after his election, Broglio deflected questions about clergy sex abuse during his tenure as chief of cabinet to Sodano, falsely saying the accusations against Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel only emerged after Broglio had moved on. He left the Vatican in 2001 and the allegations were published in 1997. It will be interesting to see how Broglio handled sex abuse cases once he did move on, becoming nuncio to the Dominican Republic in 2001, and then at the U.S. military archdiocese.

The majority of the U.S. episcopate may be looking to the next papacy. As Australian Jesuit Fr. Bill Uren recently noted at La Croix, « Thus, the American bishops in electing Archbishop Broglio and seeming to embrace a restorationist agenda are not necessarily embracing a forlorn cause. Their fortunes and those of their Republican sponsors may be restored overnight by the election of a pope more in the mold of John Paul II or Benedict XVI than that of Pope Francis. »

There are plenty of Catholics who continue to abhor Francis. He certainly has turned the world upside down for a kind of conservative Catholic who has reduced religion to ethics and thence to politics.

The most glaring examples of this came in the latter half of the year: Francis received Jesuit Fr. James Martin, known for his ministry to gay Catholics, in audience and he defrocked pro-life activist and Donald Trump apologist, now-former Fr. Frank Pavone. You could hear the heads at EWTN exploding!

This time last year, I offered the hope that « it seems that in 2022, Francis will put the pedal to the metal. » Certainly, naming San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy a cardinal showed a pope willing to send a strong signal. As I wrote last year, « Mindful of Francis’ preference for the peripheries, I would expect any new American cardinal to come from a diocese that has never had a cardinal before and probably from a border diocese as well. »

In other ways, Francis has not advanced his agenda in ways his champions had anticipated. Leaving Cardinal Marc Ouellet in charge of the Dicastery for Bishops is baffling. There were some excellent appointments in the U.S. church: Archbishop Shelton Fabre in Louisville, Kentucky; Bishop John Dolan in Phoenix; Bishop Jeffrey Fleming as coadjutor in Great Falls-Billings, Montana; and, just last week, two stellar auxiliary bishops in Washington, D.C., Bishop-elect Juan Esposito-Garcia and Bishop-elect Evelio Menjivar-Ayala.

Still, as the voting showed at the U.S. bishops’ meeting, Team Francis is still losing by about 30 votes in key races, the same margin as in years past. In the Catholic Church, as much as in the realm of politics, personnel is policy.

Ideas matter, too, in the Catholic Church, and the most significant intellectual development in the life of the church this year was the emphatic reinstatement of just war theory as the principal Catholic moral approach to violence. When the NCR staff gathered to suggest nominees for Catholic Newsmaker of the Year, I nominated St. Augustine, the father of just war theory.

Two years ago, Catholic peace activists were championing Francis’ concerns about just war theory in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti. Pax Christi hosted two conferences in Rome earlier in the pontificate, advocating a change in magisterial teaching to prioritize pacifism.

Alas, the peace activists were not prescient. Pacifism, as a theory, cannot reckon with the evil someone like Vladimir Putin can unleash. Efforts at nonviolent resistance within Ukraine are heroic, to be sure, but inadequate. Declarations about the value of pacifism from outside Ukraine are morally suspect or worse.

Francis’ ambivalence about the war in Ukraine does not seem to be the consequence of a divided mind or heart, but of a divided role. The vicar of Christ cannot be championing military efforts by any nation, but in his role as a moral leader, any semblance of evenhandedness between the combatants is morally obscene.

There is no good answer to this conundrum. « War is an ugly thing, » even when it is just, « but it is not the ugliest of things » as John Stuart Mill observed.

Catholic intellectual life also presents one of the biggest underreported stories of 2022: the continued drift of theology departments and confused sense of Catholic identity at many of our institutions of higher learning.

With the ending of COVID-related travel restrictions, it is again possible to visit college campuses, and every time I do, someone will approach me to complain about the culture of intellectual conformity and mediocrity on campus. Sometimes it is a student, sometimes a teacher, but the refrain is the same: Our Catholic intellectual tradition is being shunted aside. More on this in the weeks ahead.

Let’s finish on a note that is, if not exactly happier, at least more uncontroversially Catholic: 2022 has been a year when the Catholic Church as an institution stood guard at the borders of the world, attempting to restore human dignity to those forced to those borders by the violence of poverty and war.

At our national border with Mexico, Catholic Charities has been deeply engaged in meeting the humanitarian and spiritual needs of migrants. And, along the border with Ukraine, Catholic Poland rose up as one to welcome refugees from the conflict.

It was astonishing that as millions of Ukrainians reached the border in such a short time, there were no tents, no refugee camps. People opened their homes. Archbishop Borys Gudziak thanked the people and clergy of the U.S. church for their generous humanitarian support, in one of the few highlights of the November plenary U.S. bishops’ meeting.

At a time when revanchist nationalism tries to enlist Catholicism as an ally, the church’s daily witness of welcoming migrants and refugees shows the futility of that enlistment. A church that stops caring for migrants and refugees is no longer a Christian or Catholic Church.

These were the ecclesial issues and stories that loomed largest in 2022. Wednesday, I will look back at the year in politics and at the estuary where politics and religion intersect.


God Made Visible

(Solemnity of the Nativity-Year A; This homily was given on December 25, 2022 at St. Paul’s Church in Cranston, R.I.; See John 1:1-14)