29 March 2013

The Law of Fasting & Abstinence

Today being Good Friday, Catholics of the Latin Rite are called to fasting and abstinence in observing the penitential nature of this day.  (Catholics of the Eastern Churches generally have their own rules on fasting and abstinence.)  However, the two requirements--fasting and abstinence--do not bind everyone in the same way.  A short discussion of the two:

Abstinence.  This binds only Catholics who have completed their fourteenth year, i.e., those who are 14 years old and older.  Those under 14 years old may have meat this day.  In his 1966 document Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI clarified the contours of fasting and abstinence.  Although superseded by the 1983 Code of Canon Law in many ways, it can be useful in providing interpretive guidance.  By abstinence  we mean those bound must abstain from the eating of meat, which has historically not included fish and other sea animals.  Paul VI said that: "The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat."

Fasting.  This only binds those who have reached the age of majority until the beginning of their sixtieth year.  That is, only those between the ages of 18 and 59 are bound to the obligation to fast on Good Friday.  How much does this mean we are permitted to eat?  Pope Paul VI indicated: "The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing—as far as quantity and quality are concerned—approved local custom."

The Pope, Washing Feet, and Law

I was asked about the question of the Washing of the Feet and the Pope's decision to wash the feet of 2 young women on Holy Thursday.  There seems to be some great confusion on this, which to my lawyer's mind seems to be based in some misunderstandings about law generally and liturgical law specifically.

Before I begin, just a few caveats.  First, I do not believe there is some unchanging theological necessity that limits the washing of feet to 12 men.  In other words, I do not have any theological problem to the washing of women's feet on Holy Thursday.  As for the symbolism of the action, I tend to think that it is best expressed when the Diocesan Bishop washes the feet of 12 of his priests, but that's just my personal view.  However, as I will explain below, I do believe that limiting the washing of feet to men is the current law, and that generally we should have a spirit of obedience to the law, especially in regards the liturgy.  Nonetheless, proper authority certainly has the right to change this, but should it be changed it ought to be done in a way proper to the promulgation of law.

First, some background on the liturgical instructions.  As most Catholics know, on Holy Thursday priests are permitted (but not required) to include in the Mass of the Lord's Supper the liturgical action known as the Mandatum.  This is the washing of the feet in in imitation of Christ's own example, as recounted in the thirteenth chapter of John's Gospel.  There Christ tells his Apostles:

You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 
John 13:13-15

In the current liturgical books, the Church permits the washing of the feet of twelve men.  In the Latin this is very clear, the text uses the word "vir"--meaning men specifically--and not "homo", meaning man generally (i.e., human beings).  There is no ambiguity in the liturgical rubric, if the Mandatum is done in the liturgy it is to be done with 12 men.  

Keep in mind, however, that this liturgical action is not a Sacrament, nor even a sacramental.  That is, it is not the vehicle for grace the way baptism is.  When water is poured over the head of a child and the words of baptism said, it effects a change in the child more than his just getting wet.  The symbolism of the pouring of water and saying of words is, in effect, the vehicle for God's salvific grace.  In this, God mandates not only the grace that is given, but the means through which it comes.  For this reason, the Church recognizes that she cannot change the symbol (the pouring water and the words) any more than she can change the grace that flows from it.  This is decidedly not the case with the washing of feet.  This action is just symbolic, it effects no grace by the working of the action itself, as sacraments do.  It only effects a change in that the viewer is stirred to reflect on the action of Christ in seeing it symbolically reenacted in the context of the Liturgy.  Thus, the Church is far freer in adapting the symbol to suit changes in time, place, and custom.

In regards to the changeable elements of the liturgy, who has the authority over it?  The Second Vatican Council made that abundantly clear in the document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the first Constitution issued by the Council Fathers:

Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See
Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 

That is, the Pope--and the Pope alone--has authority over the sacred liturgy.  He normally does that by promulgating the liturgical books.

Is the Pope bound to the authority of the liturgical books?  Yes, but remember that he also has the power of dispensation.  There are things in the liturgy which are unchangeable--the use of bread and wine, for example--which not even the Pope can derogate from.  But for the others--"merely ecclesiastical laws"--the Pope may dispense anyone from them.  So, for example, before the Second Vatican Council, to say Mass a priest had to have use of his thumb and index finger to hold the host.  The Jesuit Priest--now saint--Isaac Jogues had his fingers removed by the Mohawk Indians then living in Canada, whom he was trying to evangelize.  The Pope at the time dispensed him from that liturgical law so that he might continue to say Mass.

The Code of Canon law allows a legitimate authority to dispense from any "merely ecclesiatical law":

Can. 85 A dispensation, that is, the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law in a particular case, can be granted, within the limits of their competence, by those who have executive power, and by those who either explicitly or implicitly have the power of dispensing, whether by virtue of the law itself or by lawful delegation.

As a general rule, in the law one who has the power to dispense others has the power to dispense himself, unless explicitly prohibited from doing so.  Here, the Pope clearly has the power to dispense from the rule that the washing of the feet be limited to men.  In fact, he is the only authority with the power to do so, as the law explicitly reserves the regulation of the Sacred Liturgy to him.  Since he has the power to dispense others, he can dispense itself.

Therefore, those who say the Pope somehow acted illicitly by washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday are simply wrong.  He has the legal authority to do so, and such an action is completely legitimate.

Now, what about everyone else?  A well known Catholic writer issued on Twitter this comment:  "The question of whether a priest can wash women's feet on Holy Thursday now seems answered. Pope Francis will do this today in a prison."  To the extent that this was an assertion that any priest may now ignore the rubric limiting the washing of feet to men, this is simply wrong and misunderstands the nature of law.

The whole point of "dispensation" is that it derogates from the law in a particular instance.  Law, on the other hand, is something of general applicability.  Part of the very definition of law is that it must be promulgated by one in authority if it has general effect.  To state otherwise would be to say that every dispensation actually changed the law for everyone.  That would be chaos.  The orderly functioning of any society requires a consistent and coherent set of laws, and a clear delineation of what binds and what does not.

To conclude, Pope Francis was certainly not acting "illegally" by washing the feet of two women on Holy Thursday night in the juvenile prison in Rome.  At the same time, the Pope did not change the rubric for anyone else, only for himself on that one Holy Thursday.

If pastors--or Bishops--earnestly believe that there is great spiritual advantage to be had by changing the rule, their course is clear.  We are a hierarchical Church that, especially with regards to the liturgy, looks to those who have been given the special charge of preserving that liturgy.  Any priest, any Bishop, and even an entire Conference of Bishops, needs simply to petition the Apostolic See for a dispensation of the rule, or request its amendment.  Until then, the law should be followed.

28 March 2013

7 Churches on Holy Thursday

There is an ancient Roman tradition of visiting the altars of seven churches on Holy Thursday night.  This is actually pretty easy to do in a city of 900 churches.  After the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday evening, the last Mass before the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a side chapel or altar.  The Mass of the Lord's Supper commemorates especially the institution of the Eucharist, and the Church encourages devotion to the Blessed Sacrament on this day.  There is also a practical aspect--the Church often mixes the symbolic or devotional with the practical.  The altar needs to be stripped and the tabernacle emptied for the Good Friday liturgy. Over the years, the people and parishes added splendor to this, decorating the altar with candles, flowers, and beautiful cloths.  And so developed the custom, especially in Rome and then spreading to other cities, of visiting Christ in the Sacrament at a variety of different altars and churches.

The custom developed of visiting seven churches.  Why seven?  This is probably a confusion with another custom, that of visiting the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome when on pilgrimage there.  The visiting of these seven churches was often associated with a plenary indulgence.

There may have been an indulgence associated with the Holy Thursday custom of visiting churches, but there is no more.  Rather, the Church offers a plenary indulgence for the following in Holy Thursday:

A plenary indulgence is granted [under the normal conditions] for the faithful who piously recite the versus of the Tantum ergo after the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday during the solemn reposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Here were the seven churches I visited this Holy Thursday here in Rome:

27 March 2013

Gruyères, Switzerland

If you imagine in your mind a small Alpine village, I would guess that it would look much like the medieval town of Gruyères, about 30 miles from Fribourg.  It is also the town from which gruyère cheese--that perfect ingredient for the most Swiss of dishes, fondue--gets its name.  I went on an absolutely perfect day--still a bit of the winter cold, but by no means freezing.

It has a lovely little village church off the main square.  Like all Swiss churches, it is immaculately clean and well ordered.  Climbing up the hill, it has some incredible overlooks of valley and the Alpine mountains in the distance.

Here are a few of the pictures from Gruyères:

26 March 2013

The Importance of Teachers

I am a product of Catholic education.  From 2nd to 8th grades, I attended St. Jerome Catholic School in Phoenix, AZ.  It was a relatively new parish at the time, in a fast-growing city.  I had a number of teachers I remember well, but two who stick out the most as having influenced me.  My 6th Grade and Social Studies teacher was Karen Stevens.  She was a phenomenal teacher who not only loved her students, but really respected them.  She taught me the importance of leadership, maturity, and responsibility.  

The other was a teacher who had been at the school for a while even when I was a student (nearly 30 years ago), my 8th grade and Math teacher, Rose Mischke.  She was the "cool" teacher, popular and friendly.  She nurtured in me a love for school, and the drive to do well at it.  She was tough, but you knew she cared about the students and the school.  The reason I mention all this is that I learned through my sister, who learned it through Mrs. Stevens (even after all these years, I don't think I could ever call her "Karen") that Ms. Mischke has decided to retire.  This is a woman who gave her life not just for education, not just for Catholic education, but Catholic education at St. Jerome school.  

Below is an article done last year by Our Sunday Visitor, profiling her commitment to education.  The story talks about the 8th grade adopting a family and the "Mexican Dinner" they put on to raise money for that family.  We did the very same thing when I was in 8th grade, and I am amazed that the tradition has continued so long.  

May God bless her in her retirement and may God bless all those who have committed themselves to Catholic education.

On a recent Friday, teacher Rose Mischke and about 20 students from St. Jerome Catholic School in Phoenix, Ariz., got out of class early and spent four hours with two refugee families that they “adopted.” 
Teacher Rose Mischke and her students with one of the refugee families the class has adopted. Courtesy of Rose Mischke
They shopped for paper products and toiletries for the parents and five children from Iraq, played soccer with the teens and their father, and played games with the youngest kids. When the ice cream man came through the neighborhood, the students bought something for everybody. 
They also visited a family of parents and four kids from the Congo, who had spent 12 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda. When one student gave the mom a sack of potatoes, the woman hugged her. 
“Sometimes you feel like you’re Superman,” Mischke said. 
Those simple acts and more are part of the Catholic spirit that she nurtures in her students at St. Jerome, where she has an eighth-grade homeroom, teaches religion and teaches math to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Mischke, 62, has taught at the same school for 40 years. 
“The service work enriches the children’s lives and my main theme is about service,” she said. 
Mischke helps students to stage an annual Mexican dinner and accompanying raffle that last year raised $40,000 for the local St. Vincent de Paul Society. 
“Every year, the same people donate because they know it goes to good use. One guy gave us 200 pounds of cheese and 200 pounds of beans,” she said. “And the kids have to do the dinner themselves, so it’s really living their faith.” 
The school is involved with a parish project that collects and redistributes household items, toys and other goods that someone else can use. So there were things on hand one afternoon when Mischke encountered a homeless woman outside the school. When she said she had a job interview and needed help, Mischke sent her to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, but when Mischke went back inside the school, she realized that the shop was close to closing time. 
“I found some extra sheets, food products that people had donated, and within 10 minutes, my kids were running down the street trying to find this lady,” she said. 
They couldn’t, but they later found her praying in the chapel. 
“All of a sudden, she was there, and when they gave her all this stuff, she started crying,” she said. “These are the kinds of things that happen, and you can’t say it’s luck. I believe that everything happens for a purpose. We talk about how God closes one window and opens another.” 
She has seen how Catholic education influences what students can become. One girl founded a high school club to teach English to refugee families. Another went on to teach at a public school and organized his own Mexican dinner fundraiser to purchase eye glasses for needy students. 
“I know that this [service] is working,” she said. “They are taking what they learned here and carrying it into their formative years and their adult years. You can see how it carries on.” 
Mischke had an uncle who was a missionary priest, and an aunt was a nun who taught in Chicago. 
“I was born a Catholic, raised a Catholic, and my only desire was to teach in a Catholic school,” she said.

Fribourg, Switzerland

 One of the reasons I started this blog, as I've mentioned before, is to post pictures of places I visit in Europe for friends and family.  Because of my postings following the Pope's election, this blog has gotten a bit of a wider view than I had thought it would.  Still, it's a handy place to post pics.

The Canton of Fribourg in Switzerland is one of the historically Catholic Canton.  (A Canton is roughly--very roughly--the equivalent of a "State" in Switzerland.)  The Cantons are generally divided between those that went for Calvin and those that remained Catholic.  Fribourg, because of its location between two Calvinist Cantons, was not only Catholic but quite adamantly so.  This was probably exacerbated by the violence they suffered at the hands of their Calvinist neighbors.  They still have the custom on Corpus Christi of firing of the town's canons as a warning to those Protestants who might seek to disrupt the Eucharistic procession.

When the Canton of Fribourg built its University, it asked the Dominican Order to run the college of theology, which it does to this day.  In America, we would find it odd for a state university to have a theology faculty run by a religious order, but such things are far more acceptable here.  Currently, our Province of Dominicans has three priests studying theology in Fribourg.

I had planned for some time to go up and visit these brothers.  While in the midst of planning, Benedict XVI announced his retirement.  I decided to take the trip anyway, thinking (and hoping) it likely that the Conclave would not start until I returned.  I turned out to be correct, thank goodness, and returned to Rome the day before the Conclave began.

Like much of Western Europe, the religiosity of the people--both Catholic and Calvinist--had faded greatly.  Nevertheless, the majesty of the Catholic faith--the churches, shrines, monasteries, and statues--remains.  It is amazing to consider how far and how deeply the faith permeated the culture there.

Switzerland is a place of incredible natural beauty, and of great artistic beauty as well.  The pictures below are just from my time in Fribourg.  I plan to upload as well pictures from Gruyere and Lucerne as well.

23 March 2013

The Secular Press and Religious Reporting

 The events of the last few weeks, with the resignation of Benedict XVI, the Conclave, and the election of Pope Francis, have put the Vatican in a spotlight.  The spotlight is provided in many ways by the international press corps.  As an English speaker, with at least a reading knowledge of Italian, I have been able to watch both the Italian press and the English-speaking (mostly American) secular press.  My general conclusion was how very, very bad the reporting was. 

On the other hand, there was some very good reporting from the religious press.  Now, I don’t mean simply that it was positive.  I certainly believe in an independent press, one that is willing to ask difficult questions and get to the heart of the story.  As much as I might find fault with the later reporting, much of the initial reporting of the abuse scandal in the U.S., as painful as it was as a Catholic to read, was not only good, but necessary.  What I mean is that the Catholic press was good at giving the full background and context of stories, so as to actually inform.

Thinking about it over the last few days, I decided to write up my impressions on the reporting I saw, and sometimes experienced, over these last several weeks.  My purpose for this is not merely to rant at the secular press—although I admit some satisfaction in that.  It is to help people to understand that you cannot take much of what is reported on the Catholic Church in the mainstream secular press at face value.  It does not mean everything they report is wrong, but they are increasingly like the boy who cried wolf, and it is hard to know what to believe and what not to believe.  A Catholic should balance his reading of Catholic issues in the news by some good solid religion reporters.

Below are what I see as some of the most significant flaws that surfaced in the reporting by the mainstream secular media, especially in the U.S.  I suppose if I had more time I could up with many more, although this is pretty long. 

19 March 2013

Mass of the Installation of Pope Francis

Below are pictures form the Installation Mass of Pope Francis held today in Rome on the Solemnity of St. Joseph.  The program for the Mass can be found on the Vatican website.  It is officially The Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Imposition of the Pallium, the delivery of the Fisherman's Ring, and Holy Mass at the beginning of the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Francis.  

I was able to secure a seat in the clergy section near the front.  Below are the pictures from Mass today:

17 March 2013

The Process of a Papal Election

I admit, I am a little late in getting to this, but it’s been a whirlwind of a week!

I had mentioned some time ago, that I would discuss what happens (at this point, ‘happened’) at the Conclave during the election of the Pope.  Now, I have no inside scoop on who got how many votes or how the voting progressed.  All I mean to do is to describe the procedure for voting, putting it in some context with the general law of the Church with regards to voting.

16 March 2013

What it means to serve the poor

UPDATE:  I have updated the language of this post to make my point more clearly.  There seem to be some who desire to draw a wedge in the life of the Church between the fitting celebration of the liturgy and service to the poor.  I most emphatically do not believe that Pope Francis is one of them any more than I believe Pope Benedict XVI would have drawn any such dichotomy.  This post is meant to explain briefly, in the theology and history of the Church, why both of these express the true life of the Christian, albeit in different ways. 

John Vianney 415.jpg
Before coming to Rome, I was assigned for three years at our parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Zanesville, OH.  The parish is a part of the Diocese of Columbus.  While in the Diocese, I learned of one of the great ministries of outreach to the poor, the soup kitchen at Holy Family parish. The church, and the soup kitchen and pantry, are located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city.  The soup kitchen serves 700 hot meals every day, Monday through Saturday.  The pantry serves, on average, 250 families every week with food assistance.  The parish stands out in the Diocese for its dedication to serving the poor in its own neighborhood.

The parish stands out in another way. It is home to the extraordinary form of the Mass, celebrated there every week.  Just as the soup kitchen served those who hunger for food to keep them alive, so the Mass, in its traditional form, serves those who hunger for the rich splendor of the traditions of the Catholic Church.

In these days following the election of Pope Francis, there have been some (not the new Holy Father himself, of course) who have tried to create a wedge between the Church's call to serve the physical needs of the poor and her call to serve their spiritual needs.  To those who believe that a commitment to the poor is contrary to a commitment to spendor in the worship of God, I think Holy Family Church parish in Columbus remains a shining counter-example.

The first duty of the Church is to preach the good news, to be the instrument of salvation, the sacrament of the encounter with Jesus Christ.  That means her first duty is to present the splendor of salvation present through the ancient symbols of her liturgy.  It should be done, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us, with a degree of noble simplicity.  Noble because its very essence touches the most exalted.  Simple so that our ostentation does not obscure the true beauty of God himself.

In this we look to the saints.  St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, was known as a diligent priest who gave everything he was in service to his people--in preaching, in teaching, and especially in hearing confessions.  He was also an example of a priest who, though never taking a religious vow of poverty himself, lived a life of poverty.  It is said that he would allow his own priestly clothes--his black cassock--to fall almost to tatters.  Why?  So that he might better provide for the beauty of the liturgy.  St. John Vianney believed in a radical detachment from wealth in the world, especially wealth for its own  sake or merely personal comfort. In so doing, that radical detachment from worldly riches opened him up to a finer appreciation for the riches of God. The things of this world are meant to sustain man, but to give glory to God.

To set our duty to serve the material needs of the poor against the splendor of divine worship is nothing less than an attempt to split Christ in two.  And the converse is just as true.  We can say the Mass with perfect adherence to the rubrics and in the most perfect vestments, but if we fail to serve Christ in the suffering of our neighbors we tear Christ in two.  We believe in the one person of Christ, the perfect union of a human and a divine nature in the one divine person.  In its service to the poor, the Church must serve the whole man, body and soul, for only then does she serve God.

14 March 2013

New Pope in Pictures

A quick posting of all the pictures I took from the election.  Pray for Pope Francis!

Habemus Papam!

To be in Rome for a Papal election is a great grace, as spiritually uplifting as it is exciting.  Yesterday certainly proved so for me.

Last night I was assigned to celebrate the conventual Mass at the Basilica of San Clemente—our Priory church—here in Rome.  I had been watching the news, and by the time Mass started at 6:30 Rome time, I knew there was no smoke from the Sistine chimney yet.  But, I knew that the later it got, the more likely we would get smoke.  It usually takes about a ½ hour to say Mass, meaning it would end around 7:00pm, just at the time the next smoke was expected.  But that morning the smoke was 20 minutes early, so I was afraid we’d have a Pope in the middle of my Mass.

I did my best not to rush Mass—at least not to rush it too much!  I think most people were in the Square or watching events on the television, as there were very few of the faithful for Mass.  I ended up concluding Mass in a bit under 30 minutes.  As soon as I finished, I cleaned up after Mass, locked the Basilica, turned out the lights, grabbed my cappa and camera and made for the bus.  It was about 7:05pm in Rome.  Seconds after stepping out of the doors of the Priory, I received a text to my phone.  It was one word, but spoke volumes: “White!”  I began to quicken my pace.

As I got out of our garden and onto the street, I spotted one of my confreres coming off the Tram.  I told him the smoke is white, and that I was grabbing a cab.  He quickly followed.  Fortunately, there is a major taxi stop in front of a hotel down the street and around the corner from us.  The brother and I—neither of us in top athletic form—ran for the taxi stand.  There was, praise God, a line of cabs waiting.  As we climbed in the first I breathlessly exclaimed: “Fumata Bianca!  Andate a San Pietro!”  (White Smoke!  Go to St. Peter’s!).  As I said before, I was never more thankful for crazy Roman cabbies.

13 March 2013

Peggy Noonan on the Media

I read today Peggy Noonan's blog post.  I have been a great fan of hers since her speech writing days, and look forward to her regular column on Fridays in the Wall Street Journal.  She has a piece today that really struck a cord with anyone who has been in Rome and been a witness to these recent Papal events--and the antics of the secular media.  The column deserves to be quoted in full, but I hope she won't mind if I quote a part of it, the last part (the final paragraph is perfect).  You can read the full blog entry here.

The second is that there’s a lot of ignorant, tendentious and even aggressive media chatter about the church right now, and it’s starting to grate. Church observers are blabbering away on cable and network news telling the church to get with the program, throwing around words like “gender” and “celibacy” and “pedophile” and phrases like “irrelevant to the modern world.”
I wouldn’t presume to tell Baptists or Lutherans or Orthodox Jews how they should interpret their own theology, what traditions to discard and what new ones to adopt, what root understandings are no longer pertinent. It would be presumptuous, and also deeply impolite in a civic sense. The world I came up in had some virtues, and one was that we gave each other a little more space, a little more courtesy both as individuals and organizations, never mind faiths. That kind of public courtesy is what has allowed America, with all its sharp-elbowed angers and disagreements, to operate.
Right now every idiot in town feels free to tell the church to get hopping, and they do it in a new way, with a baldness that occasionally borders on the insulting. Whatever their faith or lack of it they feel free to critique loudly and in depth, to the degree they are capable of depth. I have been critical of the church over the sex scandals for longer than a decade. Here’s one column—but I write of it because I love it and seek to see it healthy, growing and vital as it brings Christ into the world. Some of the church’s critics don’t seem to be operating from affection and respect but something else, or some things else.
When critics mean to be constructive, they bring an air of due esteem and occasional sadness to their criticisms, and offer informed and thoughtful suggestions as to ways the old church might right itself. They might even note, with an air of gratitude free of crowd-pleasing sanctimony, that critics must, in fairness, speak of those parts of the church that most famously work—the schools that teach America’s immigrants, the charities, the long embrace of the most vulnerable—and outweigh a whole world of immediate criticisms.
But when they just prattle on with their indignant words—gender, celibacy, irrelevant—well, they’re probably not trying to be constructive. One might say they’re being vulgar, ignorant and destructive, spoiled too. They think they’re brave, or outspoken, or something. They don’t have enough insight into themselves to notice they’d never presume to instruct other great faiths. It doesn’t cross their minds that if they were as dismissive about some of those faiths they’d have to hire private security guards.
I once read an account of Anne Boleyn’s death. In the moments after she was beheaded her head was held aloft by her executioner, to show the crowd. Her nervous system was shocked, her neurons misfired, her head didn’t know it was severed from her neck. Her eyes blinked, her mouth moved crazily. Those critics who go on TV now to tear down what they don’t even understand: they are removed and unknowing. They are Anne Boleyn’s head.

12 March 2013

The first ballot. . . Black Smoke!

So I took the bus down to St. Peter's Square.  Some sisters from the Community of the Lamb (a wonderful group of sisters) were at the bus stop, and I rode down with them.  We joined up with some American seminarians when we switched buses.

There were lots of people flowing into the square, and the journalists were like vultures descending on the crowds.  The Piazza was much fuller than it normally is on a Tues. at 7:00pm, but it wasn't packed.  I think most people figured the Pope would not be elected tonight.

A middle-aged Italian woman came up to ask to talk.  The Italians rarely have trouble talking with strangers. She said a few interesting things.  I asked if she wanted an Italian Pope.  Her response: "Basta!" (Enough!)  There really is a sentiment among the Italians that their country is broken.  Although not so much in the press, the current political situation in Italy is in absolute turmoil with no clear party ready to run the government.  There is almost a despair among the Italians about their own future, and their inability to be trusted with the workings of the Vatican.  They see their political leaders as corrupt, untrustworthy, and without a concern for the common good of the people.  So, when I asked her who she wanted, she emphastically said an American--"Il Cappuccino " (the Capuchin).  She wanted Cardinal O'Malley.  There remains a great love for the Italians of the Franciscans, especially because of St. Padre Pio, the 20th century priest and mystic.  There is also a sense of the humility and simpleness of the Capuchins, especially O'Malley, that the Italians find very attractive.  It didn't hurt that there was apparently a picture in the Italian Press of Cardinal O'Malley giving bread to the poor.

She also said that her pastor was not in favor of an American Pope.  Why?  Because of the danger of the CIA!  As is often said, the Italians have never heard a conspiracy theory that they're not willing to believe.  The juicer the gossip, the more they want to hear!

She was also Roman and a long-time Papal watcher.  She said that they never elect in the morning, always in the afternoon.  So, if the past is any guide, don't expect white smoke in the morning.

The smoke came much later than was expected.  Fr. Lombardi had thought that it would come around 7:00pm.  It didn't come until about 7:40pm.  I'm not sure if we should expect the same for the remaining days, or whether this was just a first day glitch.

Anyway, here are the pictures of the smoke and the smokestack.  There are also a few of the Loggia, prepared for the new Pope's entrance, and a few of the Piazza.

Oaths in the Church

As part of the Conclave, a number of people, in addition to the Cardinals, must take oaths.  The most recent will be the one they take today at the start of the election.  The Cardinal Dean, Cardinal Sodano, will read the following text:
We, the Cardinal electors present in this election of the Supreme Pontiff promise, pledge and swear, as individuals and as a group, to observe faithfully and scrupulously the prescriptions contained in the Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis, published on 22 February 1996. We likewise promise, pledge and swear that whichever of us by divine disposition is elected Roman Pontiff will commit himself faithfully to carrying out the munus Petrinum of Pastor of the Universal Church and will not fail to affirm and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and the liberty of the Holy See. In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff, unless explicit authorization is granted by the same Pontiff; and never to lend support or favor to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention, whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree or any group of people or individuals might wish to intervene in the election of the Roman Pontiff.
Then each Cardinal in turn will place his hand on the Gospels and swear to the foregoing.

The  taking of oaths, while controversial for some Protestant denominations, has long been acceptable in the Catholic Church.  Over the course of the centuries, the Church has a developed understanding of the nature of oaths, both theologically and legally.

Canon law defines the nature of an oath as: “the invocation of the divine Name as witness to the truth.”  (CIC 1199)  We usually consider oaths in regards to a witness in a court action.  Truth is, of course, the correlation between objective reality and my own internal knowledge of it.  The internal knowledge can only be expressed by an external manifestation—by telling what I know.  Of course, given our fallen human nature, it is possible for us to deliberate break the correlation between what we know and what we say.  The idea of the oath is that we assert the witness of God—who knows both the objective reality and the truth of our hearts—to the correlation between our external words and our internal knowledge of the truth.
In addition, the oath can be similar to a vow in that a person swears his intention to carry out a certain act.  Again, God is invoked as a witness to the truth of the person’s intention.  A man taking an oath does this not by making God testify, but by relying on the authority of God.  Put another way, the man who takes an oath asserts that were God asked, he would agree with the oath taker.

As an oath is by its very nature an act of religion.   In classical Catholic understanding, acts of religion do not mean what we mean in the modern secular use of the word.  Rather, religion is a virtue that is a species of the virtue of justice.  As justice is about giving another his due, the most important act of justice is to give God his due, which is religion.  So the fulfillment of oath involves doing justice to God.  As such, as an act of religion that relies specifically on the greater certainty and power of God, an oath is also inherently an act of worship.  Oaths gain their force because the one making them ties the truth of his statement to his relationship with God, and thus his very salvation.

This is why, in the Church, the taking of an oath is an extremely grave matter.  For many of the Fathers of the Church oaths were to be avoided.  Although not going quite that far, even St. Thomas recognizes that oaths should be taken very carefully:
Even as a medicine is useful for healing, and yet, the stronger it is, the greater harm it does if it be taken unduly, so too an oath is useful indeed as a means of confirmation, yet the greater the reverence it demands the more dangerous it is, unless it be employed aright… (ST, q. II-II, q. 89, a. 5, ad 3)
Thus the Angelic Doctor offers this advice to anyone who might take an oath:  “he who ventures to swear on holy things should do so fasting, with all propriety and fear of God.”  (ST, II-II, q. 89, a. 10.)  One might also recall the words of St. Thomas More to his daughter Meg, as given in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons:  "When a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then—he needn't hope to find himself again"

This gravity is expressed also in the penalty for its violation. As Benedict XVI made clear during his pontificate, the penalty for violating this particular oath is excommunication latae sententiae, that is automatically.

The matters over which the Cardinals will decide affects the functioning of the Church, and the salvation of souls.  It is of the gravest of acts, and it is also a deeply spiritual act.  The presence of oaths helps to emphasize the spiritual nature of the undertaking, as well as the gravity of observing what has been determined to be the best ordering of the process.

05 March 2013

Canon Law & Voting

As we await the Cardinals’ decision on when the voting for a new Pope will start, it might be opportune to look forward to some of the legal issues involved in the voting process.  The first thing to realize is that when the Cardinals come together to begin the Conclave, they will not start voting right away.  In fact, on the first day there will likely by only one ballot in the afternoon. But, we’re getting ahead of things a bit.  I want to take this blog post to talk about elections in the church generally, and a little bit about the Papal election specifically.  In another post, I will talk about the procedure of a Papal election with more detail.

In the history of the Church, there have been a variety of ways to select a Bishop, the most common being acclamation (or inspiration), compromise, and scrutiny.  For example, there is the famous story of the election of St. Ambrose as Bishop of Milan.  It is said that during the discussion of who should be the next Bishop, a child cried out, “Ambrose, Bishop!” and the crown immediately elected him by acclamation.  This was especially unusual given that Ambrose was not even baptized at the time, he was still just a catechumen!  Election by acclamation remained a legally permissible method of election for centuries.  Under the current law, however, it is no longer permitted and it was explicitly excluded by Pope John Paul II in Universi domenici gregis.  

Another method of election of election is by compromise.  Many people might be thinking, ‘well, every election involves some compromise.’ While true, this refers to a specific legal method of election.  Election by compromise usually arises when a body is unable to come to an agreement on the choice of a candidate.  So, what they do is agree to choose another person or body to make the decision.  (see CIC 174)  This decision must be unanimous.  Its effect is to cede the right to vote to this other person or body.  Needless to say, this method is fairly rare and I know of no actual instance if it, although I am sure there are some.  However, with regard to the election of the Pope, this is explicitly excluded in Universi domenici gregis.  The Cardinals may not delegate their right to vote to any other person or body.

That leaves election by scrutiny, or what we might call election by ballot.  This is by far the most popular and common method of election in the Church today, and the Code has a rather lengthy section on the conduct of elections.  A group may choose to vary from this scheme in various ways and, as we will see, the Papal election has some important variances from the usual law of elections.

The first thing to note is that at the heart of election by scrutiny is the vote itself.  For a vote to be validly made in the law is must be, above all, freely made by a valid elector.  That is, it must be made without any compulsion or grave fear.  This is part of the reason for all of the seclusion of the Cardinal electors, so that even the mere possibility of undue outside in kept to a minimum.  In addition, each individual vote must be secret, certain, absolute, and determined. (CIC 172 §1)

First, it must be secret.  This is something we understand as Americans.  When we vote in elections for President or in local election, we fully expect that our vote will be kept confidential.  The reason for this is so that people can feel as free as possible in casting their ballot.  Second, it must be certain, that is there must be no doubt as to the person for whom one is voting.  This would exclude ballots that were illegible or that were ambiguous.  For example if two people named Robert were running for an office and I write, “I vote for Bob”, my vote is invalid because it is uncertain which ‘Bob’ I’m voting for.  Next, it must be absolute, which means it must be without any conditions.  That is one could not say, “I vote for Bob, unless Pete has more votes, then I vote for him.”  This is a bit different from pre-election conditions to a vote, which I discussed in an earlier post.  Finally, it must be determined.  That means is must be voting for a particular person.  One may not vote for a group or an unspecified person a group.  Thus, the following ballot would be invalid: “I vote for the Italian Cardinal who gets the most votes.”  The ballot must specific a person, which generally means by name.

Generally speaking, the rule of voting is a majority – that is 50% + 1.  (CIC 119)  Of course, as most know, the rules for the Papal election differ.  To be elected Pope, one needs at least 2/3 of the votes of those voters present at the election.  We expect that at the Conclave there will be 115 electors, two thirds of this is 76 2/3.  This means that to elect a Pope will likely require at least 77 votes of the Cardinals. 

The rules for voting also have a procedure when the voters cannot come to agreement.  In canon law, if there have been two ballots without any one being properly elected, the next ballot is limited to the highest vote-getters.  That is, if after two ballots the votes are distributed among 5 candidates, none of whom have received a majority, then the two that have received the highest number of votes are the only ones that may be validly voted for in the next ballot.  Any ballot for another candidate is considered a null vote.  And what happens when the vote is still tied?  Interestingly, canon law breaks the tie by by looking to age—the older candidate is elected.

Papal elections differ substantially from this.  First, there are far more than 2 ballots before the rules begin to change.  Universi Domenici gregis requires at least three days of inconclusive voting before a break may be taken, which can be no longer than a day.  After this break, voting continues for a maximum of seven more ballots (i.e., two days of voting).  If the voting is still inconclusive there is another pause for, “prayer, discussion and an exhortation” by one of the Cardinals.  After this, voting is resumed.  If the votes are still inconclusive after seven more ballots (i.e., two more days), another break is taken wherein, “the Cardinal electors shall be invited by the Camerlengo to express an opinion about the manner of proceeding.”

After this they go back to voting, but with an important change.  As in the basic procedure set out in canon law, after this point only the two top vote-getters are valid candidates (the only two with “passive voice”, to use the canonical term).  But here, Pope Benedict XVI made an important change in the law.  Originally, Bl. Pope John Paul II decreed that the voting threshold would drop to a majority vote. But the current law now requires that the voting remains at 2/3, although the top two candidates are no longer permitted to vote (they no longer have “active voice”, according to canonical terminology).  So, assuming the vote goes this long, with the same number of cardinals (115), one of the two candidates would need at least 76 votes of the remaining voters (113).  The voting will continue with these two candidates until one is elected with a 2/3 majority, however long that might take.

This is just to give some background a bit of procedure with regards to voting.  In later posts I will talk about the actual procedure of a pontifical election itself.  I will also talk about what happens after an election—just because someone is elected does not mean he’s Pope just yet!

Telegram to Benedict XVI

The Holy See has published the text of the Telegram sent by the Cardinals to His Holiness Benedict XVI, emeritus Pontiff.  The text is below:


04 March 2013

EWTN Appearance - on the Internet

EWTN has now posted my appearance on Rome Dispatch with Joan Lewis to the Internet.  You can see it on EWTN's YouTube channel, or here:

Voting Pacts & The Law

Odilo Cardinal Scherer

There has been some talk in the press about an election “ticket” for the Papal election. Some well-respected Vatican reporters (vaticanisti) are saying that some Italian Cardinals are coming together in support of a South American (apparently, the Brazilian, Odilo Cardinal Scherer) as Pope, so long as an Italian is selected as Secretary of State (apparently, Mauro Cardinal Piacenza).

Are there legal implications of this? Even though the document Universi domenici gregis applied specifically to the Papal election, the norms of canon law continue to apply. And Canon Law actually says something about conditions for an election. Specifically, Canon 172 §2, which says:
Conditions attached to a vote before an election are to be considered non-existent. 
In other words, conditions attached to a vote in an election have no force of law whatsoever.

The Cardinals may vote for a person hoping that their choice for Secretary of State will be chosen. And that desire may even be express and explict, rather than merely a sort of vague hope.  But what happens if the new Pope changes his mind? That is, is the new Pope bound to the agreement made in the election? The answer is, obviously, no. Nor would not affect the validity of the election or legally call into question its outcome. No Cardinal could say later that the election was invalid because an agreed-upon condition for his vote was not observed.

I have no idea whether the reports of this “Papal ticket” agreement are true. In the end, though, it does not really matter, because it would have no legal force whatsoever even if were true.

03 March 2013

Rome Dispatch with Joan Lewis II

It was a great experience being on Rome Dispatch with Joan Lewis.  Joan is a wonderful host, who knows the Vatican like few others.  She spent a long career working at Vatican Information Services, helping to set it up under Bl. Pope John Paul II in the early 1990s.  The show should be posted to the YouTube channel of EWTN, so look for it there.  Once it's up, I will try to link to it on the website.

We filmed on top of the Augustinianum, the school of the Augustinian friars here in Rome, renown especially for its Patristics program.  They essentially rent out their roof and a variety of other space to reporters including, for example, the Associated Press.  It is a great view of the Basilica and especially the Dome.  From the top, you could see tents set up on top of buildings all around St. Peter's Square for a whole host of news reporters. 

Below are some pictures from the show:

Rome Dispatch with Joan Lewis

I will be a guest on Rome Dispatch with Joan Lewis today (Sunday, March 3) live at 10:00am Eastern Time (that's 4:00pm here in Rome) on EWTN.  It should be re-broadcast Sunday, March 3 at 9:00pm ET as well, but check your local listings.

02 March 2013

Legal Services & The Sequester

In addition to priest, friar, and student of canon law, one of the hats I wear is member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). I have been a member since 2010, and it's been a very rewarding experience.

There has been a great deal of talk about the Sequester and its effects.  I wanted to take an opportunity to look at the effects on one tiny sliver of the U.S. Budget:  the annual appropriation to the LSC.  This is not meant to be political or polemical, or advocating any particular course of action, but merely informative.  All of this is based on publicly available date and information.

Letter of Convocation

Above is a copy of the letter of Convocations sent to each of the Cardinals convoking the first general Congregation of Cardinals following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.  When reading these, it is helpful for Americans to recall that the Italians generally have a much more elevated style of writing in correspondence.  Italian letter writing tends to include a great deal of formal elements, which sometimes seems odd to Americans.  Even so, I find this one relatively simple. 

Note the "SV/3".  In Rome, all issued documents get protocol numbers. The "SV" indicates that this is being issued during the period sede vacante.  This is the apparently the third document that was issued.

Below is my somewhat less than perfect translation:

01 March 2013

Ticket to the Papal Audience

I meant to post this before.  Above is an image of the tickets to get you into the final General Audience on Wednesday, Feb. 27.  This was, of course, the Pope's last public audience in Rome before his resignation came into effect.

In the News

The other day I did a short interview with Edward Pentin, a reporter for The National Catholic Register, among others.  He published the story the other day.  He probably makes me sound more an expert than I really am, but I appreciate the coverage.  You can see the article here, my contribution is towards the end:

Benedict’s New Name: Pope Emeritus, His Holiness Benedict XVI, Roman Pontiff Emeritus

Vacancy Signs

Like most churches, here at the ancient Papal Basilica of San Clemente in Rome, we keep a prominent portrait of the Roman Pontiff.  Right around 8:00pm, when there See of Peter was vacated, we took down the portrait.  We are a sacramental Church, we live and breath signs and symbols. The vacancy of the office of Pope is reflected in various ways, large and small.  The empty space on the wall is a visible reminder in the church of the empty chair in the Church: