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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Vie de l'église

During his annual Christmas Day…

During his annual Christmas Day message, Pope Francis lamented the « famine of peace » sparked by the invasion of Ukraine, saying the 10 month-long war had wreaked havoc on Ukrainians and fueled a crisis of hunger around the globe. 

« Think of all those, especially children, who go hungry, while huge amounts of food daily go to waste and resources are being spent on weapons, » said Francis, as he delivered his Dec. 25 urbi et orbi (« to the city and the world ») message and blessing. « The war in Ukraine has further aggravated this situation, putting entire peoples at risk of famine. »

« We know that every war causes hunger and exploits food as a weapon, hindering its distribution to people already suffering, » the pope continued. « On this day, let us learn from the Prince of Peace and, starting with those who hold political responsibilities, commit ourselves to making food solely an instrument of peace. »

Francis used the occasion to again call for an immediate end to « this senseless war » and deplored the fact that many Ukrainians are spending Christmas in the dark and cold and away from their homes. As the pope delivered his remarks, all of Ukraine was under alert, following Russia’s launch of new rockets aimed at the country. 

The pope delivered his traditional Christmas Day address from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica overlooking the square below, where thousands of pilgrims gathered on an unusually warm and sun-filled Christmas morning at the Vatican.

As he did during his Christmas Eve Mass on Dec. 24, the pope urged « concrete gestures » to aid all who are suffering during the holiday season.

He also used his noontime remarks to highlight a number of conflict zones around the world, including Yemen, Syria, Myanmar, Iran, the Sahel region of Africa, as well as the ongoing disputes between Israelis and Palestinians.

Francis also prayed for the deteriorating situation in Lebanon, which is currently without a government, and called for the support of the international community to help the country rebound. 

« I think in particular of the people of Haiti who have been suffering for a long time, » Francis said, paying tribute to a country long plagued by natural disasters and humanitarian crises, which in recent months has experienced a new wave of political chaos. 

As is his custom, the pope also spotlighted the needs of migrants and refugees, as well as offered prayers for prisoners « whom we regard solely for the mistakes they have made and not as our fellow men and women. » 

Francis said that the same forces that prevented King Herod from welcoming the birth of Jesus — « attachment to power and money, pride, hypocrisy, falsehood » — continue to plague society today and risk overshadowing the « grace of Christmas. » 

« Indeed, we must acknowledge with sorrow that, even as the Prince of Peace is given to us, the icy winds of war continue to buffet humanity, » said the pope. 

« Let us allow ourselves to be deeply moved by the love of God, » Francis concluded. « And let us follow Jesus, who stripped himself of his glory in order to give us a share in his fullness. » 

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Vie de l'église

Scripture for Life: All our…

Which Christmas Mass are you going to? When I was a child, we went to an early morning Mass — before we could see what Santa brought. Whichever celebration you choose, unless perhaps the Mass at Dawn, you know it is going to be crowded. Everything about Christmas is sacramental, awakening the Catholicism in folks who may exhibit little interest in religiosity during most of the year. (Note the crowds at Christmas Masses, and give thanks that so many people want to celebrate God’s love — even if not on a regular basis.)

Christmas invites everybody to feel at home. As we set up the nativity scenes and contemplate the characters, I suspect we often feel at most at home with the shepherds. It’s delightful to think of those folks who were just going about their business, expecting nothing more than another long night, when suddenly they became the audience for an angelic chorus. Many of us know the script because in « A Charlie Brown Christmas » Linus has taught us to repeat:

I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 

While we gladly sing that, it’s actually a very odd image to make the centerpiece of such extraordinary celebration. Perhaps we’re charmed by specialized language like swaddling clothes and the manger. The declaration is far more dramatic than saying, « Go to a little town nearby and you’ll find a baby wearing diapers, sleeping in a feedbox. »

What a sign! A baby wearing diapers! Yet that’s the message of this feast. The Gospel of John (the reading for our Mass during the Day) gives us all the solemnity we can handle with the solemn proclamation: « In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. » But that glorious declaration simply tells us that the Word of God became mortal, limited and needy. Jesus the Christ, the Word of God incarnate, needed someone to change his diapers.

We have five sets of readings for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord, including the Vigil Mass. The Gospel for the Vigil comes from Matthew, recounting the genealogy describing Jesus as a descendant of Abraham and David, then telling last Sunday’s story of Joseph’s dilemma.

The Mass during the Night begins with Isaiah’s promise that the boots that tramped battle and the cloaks rolled blood will be forgotten and the people who walked in darkness will see a great light. (Imagine how Ukrainians hear that!) Luke’s Gospel accompanies this with the story of Jesus’ birth to the homeless pilgrims, Mary and Joseph and the announcement to the shepherds. During the Mass at Dawn, we sing Psalm 97, « A light will shine on us this day, » and we hear of the shepherds’ visit to the newborn child and his parents.

Finally, in the Mass during the Day, Isaiah proclaims, « How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, » and we sing, « All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God! » Then we hear John’s solemn proclamation that includes the terrible truth: « He came to his own, but his own people did not accept him. »

The baby creates the charm of Christmas. Babies promise a future and inspire our tenderness and protectiveness. We are awed at their fragility. The scandal of Christmas is that it reveals that this is how God comes: vulnerable and fragile, unwelcomed at home while reverenced by the poor and strangers.

All our Nativity stories include hints of the end — both the cross and resurrection, Jesus’ rejection and love’s triumph through him. Christmas reminds us that God remains among us weak and mild. The baby Jesus can represent a sweet message and also the earth-shattering revelation that God’s power is the antithesis of domination. The shepherds and Magi, Caesar and Herod, remind us that not everyone desires Emmanuel, God-with-us, and that those who reject Emmanuel will stop at nothing to carry out their plan. The coming of Christ, then and now, is what the poet William Butler Yeats called « a terrible beauty. »

Today, it is we who must incarnate the promise of peace to people of goodwill. In a world in which at least 30 nations are at war, we who flock to the manger are called and empowered to become sacraments of Emmanuel. Let us wonder at the babe and remember that we must be the body of Christ today. That’s why he came in the first place.

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Vie de l'église

Listen: Father Daniel, Heidi and…

NCR executive editor Heidi Schlumpf is part of the new season of « The Francis Effect » podcast, joining co-hosts Franciscan Fr. Daniel Horan (columnist for NCR) and David Dault, executive producer and host of « Things Not Seen: Conversations About Culture and Faith. »

Father Daniel, Heidi and David explore revelations from the congressional hearings on Jan. 6, discuss the recent removal of Frank Pavone from the clerical state, and talk about their hopes for Christmas and the New Year.

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Vie de l'église

Twenty years after city…

Twenty years after city prosecutors convened a grand jury to investigate the handling of priest-abuse complaints within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the tortuous legal case came to an end with a cleric’s misdemeanor no contest plea in a near-empty City Hall courtroom.

Msgr. William Lynn, 71, had served nearly three years in state prison as appeals courts reviewed the fiery three-month trial that led to his felony child endangerment conviction in 2012. The verdict was twice overturned, leaving prosecutors pursuing the thinning case in recent years with a single alleged victim whose appearance in court was in doubt.

In the end, they said Lynn could end the two-decade ordeal by pleading no contest to a charge of failing to turn over records to the 2002 grand jury. A judge took the plea during a short break from her civil caseload last month, and imposed no further punishment.

“He lost 10 years of his life, 10 years of his priestly life,” said defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom, speaking of the decade since Lynn’s conviction. “It’s a travesty. It’s an absolute travesty.”

“You’re fighting an uphill battle because the public at large misunderstood what he was convicted of. They thought he was an abuser,” Bergstrom said.

Lynn was the first U.S. church official ever charged, convicted or imprisoned over their handling of priest-abuse complaints.

His trial attracted a packed courtroom full of press, priest-abuse victims and outraged Catholics, along with a few church loyalists. Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy, was accused of sending a known predator — named on a list of problem priests he had prepared for Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua — to an accuser’s northeast Philadelphia parish.

The trial judge allowed nearly two dozen other priest-abuse victims to testify about abuse they had suffered in the archdiocese over a half century. An appeals court later said their weeks of testimony over uncharged acts were unfair to Lynn — who some saw as a scapegoat for the church, given that the bishops and cardinals above him were never charged.

“This is one defendant, one count of endangering the welfare of children, with one group of children,” Judge Gwendolyn Bright said before his retrial was set to start in March 2020. “We’re not bringing in the so-called or alleged ‘sins of the Catholic Church.’”

The pandemic closed the courthouse, and the case against Lynn stalled yet again until the recent plea offer.

A spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner, who inherited the case from his predecessors, called Lynn’s unannounced Nov. 2 plea “the appropriate path for bringing finality and closure to the victims, who have endured retraumatization throughout the legal process for years » and said they did not want to face another trial.

The archdiocese did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Lynn, who remains a priest, has been saying Mass for retired nuns and hopes to assume more duties, according to Bergstrom, who declined to make his client available to the press on Nov. 21.

At his trial, Lynn said he had made a list of 35 suspected predator priests so Bevilacqua would address the matter, only to have the list be destroyed.

“I did not intend any harm to come to (the victim). The fact is, my best was not good enough to stop that harm,” Lynn testified.

In recent years, prosecutors were not sure they could get the trial accuser — a policeman’s son who testified to his long struggle with addiction — back in court for the retrial, complicating their trial strategy. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, the lead trial prosecutor in 2012, had said he could try the case without a victim by arguing that Lynn had placed “a bomb” in the parish, whether or not it went off.

Blessington is now retired. And, ultimately, District Attorney Krasner decided not to try that strategy.

“The victims in this matter expressed to the commonwealth that proceeding (with another trial) … would cause irreparable harm and further victimize them, » his office said in its statement.

The trial accuser said that he had been abused by two priests and his Catholic school teacher. One of them, defrocked priest Edward Avery, took a plea offer days before trial. Fr. Charles Engelhardt, who said he had never met the accuser, was convicted at a 2013 trial and died in prison. Teacher Bernard Shero was released in 2017 after his conviction was overturned and, like Lynn, pleaded no contest to lesser charges.

The priest-abuse scandal has cost the Roman Catholic church an estimated $3 billion or more, and plunged dioceses around the world into bankruptcy.

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Vie de l'église

Over 1,000 U.S. faith leaders are…

Over 1,000 U.S. faith leaders are calling for a Christmas cease-fire in Ukraine 10 months after Russia invaded its neighbor. The leaders, who represent a broad range of faiths, said they hoped a temporary truce could lead to the negotiation of permanent peace.

“As people of faith and conscience, believing in the sanctity of all life on this planet, we call for a Christmas Truce in Ukraine,” the statement says. “In the spirit of the truce that occurred in 1914 during the First World War, we urge our government to take a leadership role in bringing the war in Ukraine to an end through supporting calls for a ceasefire and negotiated settlement, before the conflict results in a nuclear war that could devastate the world’s ecosystems and annihilate all of God’s creation.”

The signers are advocating for a cease-fire from Dec. 24 through Jan. 19, the 12th day of Christmas in the Orthodox calendar.

The statement was sent to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on the morning of Dec. 20. The signers aim to meet with a representative of that office to urge the Biden administration to spearhead both the temporary cease-fire and long-term peace talks.

More than 6,000 civilians have died in Ukraine since the war began, and Ukrainians are bracing for a harsh winter as damaged infrastructure and displacement make heat a rarity.

Among the initial signers of the statement are pastor and activist the Rev. William J. Barber II, Shalom Center founder Rabbi Arthur Waskow, scholar and progressive activist Cornel West and Tarunjit Singh Butalia, executive director of Religions for Peace USA.

The statement was written by representatives of several peace groups, including Fellowship of Reconciliation, CodePink and the National Council of Elders. They began recruiting signers to the statement in mid-November. 

“As the war in Ukraine drags into .. its 10th month, the only certainty is that the estimated hundreds of thousands killed and wounded will continue to grow, as will the 14 million war refugees not to mention the humanitarian impacts felt across Europe and the globe,” Ariel Gold, executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA, said in a separate press release.

The demand is inspired by the Christmas truce that occurred during World War I. Though national leaders at the time ignored Pope Benedict XV’s plea for an official cease-fire, on Dec. 24, 1914, German and British troops along the Western Front took part in an informal, erratic truce, emerging from their trenches to sing carols and share cigars, food and beverages for a few short hours.

“Negotiation is not a euphemism for capitulation, nor is it a rationalization of Putin’s aggression,” Medea Benjamin, another of the authors of the statement and co-founder of the peace group CodePink, said in a press release. “It is simply a recognition that the end of this war cannot be achieved by more war.”

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Vie de l'église

President Joe Biden on Dec. 19…

President Joe Biden on Dec. 19 expressed alarm about growing antisemitism in the United States and around the globe and vowed to fight back against the scourge.

Speaking to guests gathered for a Hanukkah reception at the White House, Biden said “silence is complicity,” and added that it’s imperative that hate, violence and antisemitism are condemned by the nation.

“This year’s Hanukkah arrives in the midst of rising and emboldened antisemitism at home — and quite frankly, around the world,” Biden said. “I recognize your fear, your hurt, your worry that this vile and venom is becoming too normal.”

The president added: “I will not be silent. America will not be silent.”

The holiday celebration comes during a spate of antisemitic episodes. Former President Donald Trump hosted a Holocaust-denying white supremacist at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. The rapper Ye expressed love for Adolf Hitler in an interview. Basketball star Kyrie Irving appeared to promote an antisemitic film on social media. Neo-Nazi trolls are clamoring to return to Twitter as new CEO Elon Musk grants “amnesty” to suspended accounts.

“Today, we must all say clearly and forcefully: Antisemitism and all forms of hate and violence in this country have no safe harbor in America,” Biden said.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, tracked 2,717 antisemitic instances of assault, harassment and vandalism last year, a 34% increase over the previous year and the highest number since the New York City-based group began tracking them in 1979.

Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, recently hosted a White House discussion on antisemitism and combating hate with Jewish leaders representing the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations of the faith. At the event, Emhoff, who is Jewish, said he was “in pain right now” over rising antisemitism.

Among those invited to Nov. 19’s White House event were Holocaust survivor Bronia Brandman; Michele Taylor, who is U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council and the daughter of Holocaust survivors; and Avigael Heschel-Aronson, the granddaughter of Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Also present was a rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, who managed to usher his congregants to safety during a synagogue hostage crisis earlier this year. He credited security training that his suburban Fort Worth, Texas, congregation had received over the years for getting him and the other three hostages through the traumatic, 11-hour ordeal.

At the White House celebration, he noted that antisemitism was a growing problem in America but expressed thanks that many Americans — including Biden — are speaking out.

“Antisemitism may be on the rise, but thank God that people are standing by our side,” said Cytron-Walker, who is now a rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

A menorah has been added to the White House holiday collection this year, lit nightly during the eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah. White House carpenters built the menorah out of sterling silver candle cups and wood that was saved from a Truman-era renovation.

While the White House has borrowed menorahs of special significance in the past, Biden said the addition was needed.

“This year we thought it was important to celebrate Hanukkah with another message of significance, permanence,” Biden said. “The very promise of America is that we all are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our entire lives.”