|Rome at Mid-Summer…
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” —St. Paul, 2nd Corinthians 4:7
“Let us ask the Lord for this parresia, this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward! Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, ‘hierarchical and Catholic.’ So be it.” —Pope Francis, April 23, 2013, during the first weeks of his pontificate, in a homily on the Feast of St. George (link). The Pope was asking all of us to speak the truth boldly as we all move forward together in the faith. It has been a central teaching of this pontificate
“The Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.” —Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, in remarks he prepared in Rome for the July 15 funeral in Cologne, Germany, of his old friend Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who died on July 5. The remarks were read by Archbishop Georg Gaenswein in Cologne; Emeritus Pope Benedict did not attend the funeral but remained in the Vatican where he has lived since his resignation in 2013
So be it
Late July in Rome… hot, sunny, dry… the air pulls water from the flesh like a vast dehumidifier… but today was not as scaldingly hot as last week, and some clouds even broke up the previously flawless azure sky. It even seemed i might rain… But there was no rain.
Vatican officials yesterday decided to turn off the fountains in St. Peter’s Square, because there has been no rain here for weeks and the distant reservoirs providing Rome’s water supply are shrinking dangerously.
Crowds continue to wait for hour upon hour under the hot sun in St. Peter’s Square to pass through the security controls and enter St. Peter’s Basilica.
But the Square seems strangely silent, as the water does not flow, and the summer sun beats down, scalding the heads and shoulders of the faithful and the curious as they seek to draw near to the tomb of Peter.
In this odd, dry, sweating silence, murmurs and whispers fill the city with peculiar intensity, as if we are infected by a form of intellectual fever… in cafes, on benches, in restaurants, in un-air-conditioned cardinals’ apartments, in apostolic palace corridors decorated with the pale ancient maps of a Europe, and a world, prior to the Industrial Revolution, hushed voices rise and fall, heads nod in agreement, or shake in sadness and disbelief, then silence falls…
These are the relatively quiet days that have followed what we may call the “days of thunder,” which came at the end of June, and in the first half of July.
What follows is by no means a comprehensive report on these tumultuous days, merely a partial summary.
On June 20, Libero Miloni, the Auditor General of the Vatican — the man charged with final authority to account for all the income and expenses of the entire Vatican — resigned with no official explanation whatsoever.
Reports in the Italian media claimed that Miloni had resigned, not because he was not a competent professional, but because he did not make “enough concessions to the court ceremonial of the Vatican, to internal equilibria, and to the clerical susceptibility.” (link and also link)
One report put it this way: “Milone acted like a professional and this was the problem. Because he was not afraid of anybody, the resistance group called him ‘the Executioner.’ A long list of Cardinals complained to Francis who eventually gave in. Francis asked Milone to accept a lower pay. Milone was paid tax-free 20,000 Euros a month, which is a normal salary for a manager hired from the free market. At this point Milone decided to quit.”
Whether these reports are accurate or not, clearly, the unexplained departure of the Vatican’s chief accountant suggested that the Pope’s financial reform of the Vatican was encountering difficulties.
And then, another bombshell related to a high-ranking figure in Pope Francis’ financial reform efforts detonated…
On Thursday, June 29, it was announced in Australia that Australian Cardinal George Pell, chosen by Pope Francis to be the head of the entire financial reform effort, would be indicted on charges of child abuse in Australia, and asked to appear in Australian court to face the charges on July 26 (today). He did appear in court today. He did not speak a word, and the court proceedings were continued to mid-September. (link) “For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest might I indicate that Cardinal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges and will maintain his presumed innocence that he has,” Pell’s lawyer told the court.
Then, another bombshell….
On Friday, June 30, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and so the chief doctrinal authority on the Church after Pope Francis, met with Pope Francis… and Pope Francis told Mueller that his services would no longer be needed in that post.
Reuters headlined: “Second conservative departure in three days.” (link)
The Associated Press connected the decision with the fact that Mueller’s office handles investigations into allegations of sexual abuse by priests, and that these investigations have been criticized as insufficiently rigorous (link).
The AP article states: “Perhaps sensing a need to change course, Francis declined to renew the mandate of German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that processes and evaluates all cases of priests accused of raping or molesting minors. Francis named Mueller’s deputy, Monsignor Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit, to run the powerful office instead. During Mueller’s five-year term, the Congregation amassed a 2,000-case backlog and came under blistering criticism from Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, who had been tapped by Francis in 2014 to advise the Church on caring for abuse victims and protecting children from pedophile priests.”
So the impression was given that Francis’s “reform agenda” with regard to sexual abuse, as well as with regard to Vatican finances (Miloni’s resignation and Pell’s departure from Rome for Australia), was faltering, more than four years into his papacy, and that the Pope was anxious to have Pell and Mueller “out of the way.”
Mueller was taken by surprise. He had had no inkling of this decision.
In the days that followed, Rome pulsed with chatter, which slipped over onto the internet.
Mueller, it was said, had not expected to be renewed. It was said that he had had no indication that the Pope would ask him to leave the post for which his whole life of theological study had prepared him. He had expected he might remain until age 75, another six years, it was said…
But some writers suggested that a number of events in the past three years should have made it quite clear why, for theological reasons unrelated to the abuse cases, Pope Francis might not have wished to keep Mueller in his post (link).
Some reports suggested that Mueller was deeply offended both by the Pope’s decision, and by the way the Pope communicated it.
Soon after his dismissal, Mueller spoke by telephone with his friend, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the retired archbishop of Cologne. (link)
On July 5, not many hours after speaking with Mueller, Meisner suddenly passed away.
Meisner’s death meant the passing of a close friend of Mueller, and also of Emeritus Pope Benedict. Here is a report on Meisner’s death (link).
Meisner in that final conversation expressed his solidarity with Mueller, Mueller himself reported (of course, it is not best practice to accept the account of a conversation given by only one of the two speakers, but in this case there seems little reason to doubt the essential truth of Mueller’s reconstruction of what was said: link):
“Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has just revealed in a new 5 July interview that he spoke with Cardinal Meisner the night before he died. As the Passauer Neue Presse reports: ‘Müller had spoken over the phone with the former Archbishop of Cologne [Cardinal Meisner] the previous night [before he died the next morning]; and they also had spoken about the non-renewal of his former position. Meisner had shown himself to be “deeply saddened” by this dismissal. “That moved him personally and wounded him – and he considered it to be a form of damage for the Church,” as the Curial Cardinal [Müller] himself described the reaction of Meisner.
“Cardinal Müller also commented and sharply criticized in this new interview the conduct of Pope Francis with regard to his dismissal from the CDF. According to the Passauer Neue Presse: ‘In the interview with the PNP [Passauer Neue Presse], he explained that Pope Francis “communicated his decision” not to renew his term “within one minute” on the last work day of his five-year-term as Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith. Additionally, he [Müller] was not given any reasons for it. “This style [sic] I cannot accept,” as Müller stressed, clearly distancing himself from the procedure of the Pope. In dealing with employees, also in Rome “the Church’s social teaching should be applied.”'”
On July 15, Meisner’s funeral Mass was celebrated in Cologne.
At the Mass, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein read an extraordinary message from Meisner’s old friend… Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. (link)
Here is the text of that message composed by the Emeritus Pope, who turned 90 in April (link):
“At this hour, when the church of Cologne and faithful from further a field gathered to say goodbye to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, my heart and thoughts are with you also, and gladly accepting the invitation of Cardinal Woelki, I wish to address a word of remembrance to you.
“When I heard of the death of Cardinal Meisner last Wednesday, I did not want to believe it. The day before we had talked on the phone. His gratitude for the fact that he had been on vacation after he had participated in the beatification of Bishop Teofilius Matulionis in Vilnius on Sunday before (June 25) was clear in his his voice. The love for the Church in the neighboring countries in the East, which had suffered under the Communist persecution, as well as the gratitude for the withstanding the sufferings of that time, shaped his life. And so is it is no coincidence that the last visit to his life was one to a Confessor of the Faith in those countries.
“What particularly impressed me in that last talk with the retired Cardinal, was the loosened joy, the inner joy, and the confidence he had found. We know that this passionate shepherd and pastor found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination. However, what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.
“Two things in recent times which pleased him more than anything:
“(1) On the one hand, he has always told me how deeply he in the Sacrament of Penance, how young people, especially young men, are experiencing the grace of forgiveness—the Gift, they have found the life that only God can give.
“(2) The other thing that has always touched him and gave him joy, was the quiet growth of Eucharistic Adoration. At the World Youth Day in Cologne this was a central point for him — that there was Adoration, a silence in which only the Lord spoke to the heart. Some Pastoral and Liturgical experts felt that such silence in looking at the Lord can not be achieved with such a huge number of people. Some were also of the opinion that Eucharistic Adoration was overtaken as such, by the Mass, since the Lord would be received in Eucharistic bread and not be looked at. But that this Bread can not be eaten like any food, and that the Eucharistic sacrament “welcomes” all dimensions of our existence – that reception must be worship, has now become very clear. Thus, the time of Eucharistic Adoration at the Cologne World Youth Day has become an interior event, which remained unforgettable to the Cardinal.
“When, on his last morning, Cardinal Meisner did not appear at Mass, he was found dead in his room. His Breviary had slipped out of his hands: he was praying as he died, looking at the Lord, talking to the Lord. The death that was given to him, shows once again how he lived: looking at the Lord and talking to him. So we can confidently recommend his soul to the goodness of God. Lord, we thank thee for the testimony of thy servant Joachim. Let him be intercessors for the Church of Cologne, and on the whole Be earthly! Requiescat in pace!”
Now, in this text written by Emeritus Pope Benedict in memory of Meisner, what drew the attention of the press were these words: “However, what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he (i.e., Meisner) learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”
Some people took these words as an unusual, oblique criticism by the emeritus Pope of… the leadership of the present Pope, Francis, in guiding the Church.
One Italian author, Leo Zagami, wrote (link):
“Controversy of course erupted in the Vatican after Benedict XVI’s touching words were read in memory of his great friend, under the vaults of the magnificent Cathedral, and even if very diplomatic, they still raise questions about Meisner’s sudden death, and filter a not-so-mild form of criticism towards the present state of the Vatican from the Pope Emeritus.
“In his tribute to Meisner, Ratzinger said these words that should help you understand the gravity of the present crisis in the Catholic Church: “We know that for him, a passionate pastor, it was difficult to leave the Office, precisely at a time when the Church needs pastors, who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the time, and know how to live with faith and reason.’
“So Ratzinger talks openly about the ‘dictatorship of the spirit of the time’ addressing in a not-so-mild fashion, the modernization imposed by Bergoglio…”
Then on July 18, Archbishop Gaenswein, who, as the reader of the words of Emeritus Pope Benedict at the funeral had played a pivotal role in these events, intervened.
He flatly denied that Benedict had intended any criticism of Francis.
“Responding to interpretations of a recent reference by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI to the Church being near ‘capsizing,’ the retired pontiff’s closest aide on Tuesday said it’s a ‘fantasy’ to set him up against Pope Francis. ‘They’re trying to use the Pope Emeritus in an anti-Francis tone,’ said German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, speaking to the Italian daily Il Giornale.” (link)
On July 19, there appeared a new interview given by Cardinal Müller in early July to the prominent secular German news agency DPA (German Press Agency).
In this interview, Mueller expressed his loyalty to Pope Francis, but also his concern about certain decisions taken by the Pope, especially in personnel matters, and he further suggested that Emeritus Pope Benedict was “disappointed” by his dismissal.
“In former times, one always said that a good ruler is characterized by the fact that he calls the best – also sometimes uncomfortable – counselors to his side, and not the opportunists and mediocre people who at all times have tried to get close to those in power,” Mueller said. (link)
According to Die Welt, Müller counts himself to be among the “circle of the uncomfortable counselors.”
He himself does not think highly of “the behavior of the courtiers” at the Vatican, nor of the conduct of the “careerists who try, with the help of flattery, to get into some kind of small positions [‘Pöstchen‘].
“Rather take the risk of some disadvantages than bending one’s conscience,” Müller said.
Now it is July 26.
So the month is not yet over!
And in these hot July days, rumors continue to swirl:
(1) that theologians may have begun to study the documentation surrounding Paul VI’s document Humanae Vitae (1968) with an eye toward some sort of revision of that text;
(2) that liturgists may be studying some sort of melded Catholic-Protestant liturgy, without a traditional consecration, which both Catholics and Protestants may attend;
(3) that next year’s Synod of religious vocations, already under preparation, may include proposals to re-consider the discipline of priestly celibacy, and perhaps also of the female diaconate, a matter that many had thought definitively settled;
(4) that Pope Francis may be considering some revision of, or even the abrogation of, the July 7, 2007 document Summorum Pontificum of Benedict XVI which permitted wider celebration of the old Mass by any priest in the world without approval by his bishop (but many do not take this rumor very seriously, link)
And then, there is the article by Father Spadaro and his colleague in Civilta Cattolica which attacks the American Evangelicals and conservative Catholics who supported the election of President Trump as “Manichean” and “apocalyptic” in their theology, which merits further comment.
But what is the “bottom line” here?
What can we take away from all of these swirling events, rumors, appointments, resignations?
First, that human beings — even when they are in high Church positions — are fallible. “Put not your trust in princes,” Scripture says.
We carry the great treasure of the Gospel, of the proclamation of Jesus Christ, St. Paul writes, in “vessels of clay,” that is, these mortal bodies we all have and live in.
It is the treasure of the proclamation that counts, not these bodies.
We must protect and defend this proclamation, this sharing of the “Good News” (sometimes with words) so that the “worldliness” of the world, and of ourselves, never drowns out the central message, that there is hope, and that hope is a person, and that that person has a name… that behind and beneath all the shifting appearances of time and space, the Holy One lives, and draws us to Him…
And to protect this proclamation, we need boldness, and truth-telling.
We cannot do other than follow the example of the first apostles, who spoke the truth even at the risk of their lives… even at the cost of their lives.
So what we must do now is what we know, deep down, we must always do: seek truth, find truth, speak truth, without fear.
Even if it is uncomfortable, inside the Church, or outside of the Church.
This is the right way.
In this regard, I would like to cite the work of an American, Andrew Greenwell, of Corpus Christi, Texas.
He has given us an excellent summary of the meaning of the word “parresia,” the word which Pope Francis has used on several occasions to describe the type of bold truth-telling that he hopes will distinguish the speech of Christian believers. (link)
“The Pope used the word parresia (παρρησία), composed from two words: pas (πας) which means ‘all,’ and rēsis (ρησις) meaning ‘saying’ or ‘speech.’
“The word therefore literally means ‘speech which says it all,’ and this suggests its ordinary meaning ‘to speak publicly,’ ‘to speak boldly,’ ‘to speak frankly,’ ‘to speak plainly,’ ‘to speak openly.’
“The word parresia comes from the privilege given the Greeks in their assemblies, courts, and theaters where they could speak boldly and criticize and challenge their opponents openly and frankly without fear of reprisal. The concept was that insulating the speaker from the fear of harm or retribution would encourage plain, honest, and forthright speech.
“The word parresia or one of its forms is used in the Gospels (e.g., Mark 8:32, John 7:4, 13, 26; 10:24; 11:14, 54; 16:25, 29; 18:20), in Acts (2:29; 4:28, 31; 28:31), and in the letter to the Hebrews (3:6; 10:19, 35; 4:16), and in the Pauline (2 Cor. 3:12; 7:4, Eph. 3:12; 6:19; Phil. 1:20; Col. 2:15; 1 Tim. 3:13; Phil. 1:8) and Johannine epistles (1 John 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14). It therefore has a good biblical pedigree.
“A classical biblical use of the term parresia is found in the Book of Acts, where the apostles Peter and John are in Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost, when ‘suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,’ and ‘there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them,’ and they were ‘filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues.’ (Acts 2:1-4) It was the Holy Spirit that ‘enabled them to proclaim’ the Gospel to the Jews ‘from every nation under the heaven staying in Jerusalem.’ (Acts 2:5)
“Peter stood up with the other eleven Apostles and preached his bold sermon to the Jews there assembled proclaiming to them the truth of the Lord Jesus whom they had had a part, directly or indirectly through their leaders, in crucifying, but who had emerged victorious from the grave in the Resurrection.
“By Peter’s bold speech, inspired by the Holy Spirit and, as it were, elocuted by a tongue of fire, the Jews were ‘cut to the heart.’ They were told to repent and be baptized ‘everyone one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2:37-38)…
“St. Peter and St. John were apprehended, brought into the presence of the Jewish temple authorities and questioned. Peter, ‘filled with the Holy Spirit,’ (Acts 4:8) boldly preached the Gospel to those who had conspired successfully to put Jesus to death…
“The authorities ‘observing the boldness (parrēsían) of Peter and John,’ after meeting in counsel, ‘ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.’ (Acts 4:13, 18)
“Not intending to be squelched by the authority of mere men when they had been called and sent by the Son of God himself, Saints Peter and Paul said in reply, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.’ (Acts 4:19-20).
“Someone filled with parresia will find it impossible not to speak about his encounter with the Lord, and His mercy, and His grace. His joy in boldly communicating the Gospel comes from the fulfillment of this duty which arises out of his love of God and his love of neighbor.
“Those filled with the parresia Pope Francis spoke of can only say: caritas Christi urget nos, the love of Christ — of the Christ who is eager to find a home with the poor and feed with supersubstantial food those hungry for the Gospel — compels us. (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:14)
“In this, the Apostles Peter and John were no different than their Lord who, arrested by the temple guards and brought to the high priest to be questioned, responded to the high priest: ‘I have spoken publicly (parrēsía) to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret (kryptō) I have said nothing.’ (John 18:20)
“He who is filled with parresia will proclaim the Gospel from the rooftops (cf. Matt. 10:27); he will not hide the message and place it under a bushel (cf. 5:15).
“He will have no fear of opposition. He will bear all insults. He will never lose heart. This is what will steel him against his critics: In Deo laudavi verbum, in Deo speravi, non timebo quid faciat caro mihi. ‘In God I will praise my words, in God I have put my trust: I will not fear what flesh can do against me.’ (Ps. 55:5 [56:4])…
“In a world which increasingly rejects the Gospel, diffidence is not an option. Whether we be placed before the high priests of secularized culture, the scribes in the liberal media, the talking heads and commentators and comics who ridicule Christians of being drunk on the heady wine of passémores, or the moral relativists who, desirous to excuse all manner of sin, uphold the nonsensical doctrine that there is no dogma but the dogma that there is no dogma: the Gospel must be made known with boldness, with parresia.
“Yes, Pope Francis, your prayer is sound: ‘Let us ask the Lord for this parresia, this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward! Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, ‘hierarchical and Catholic.’ So be it.”
So be it… even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing….