About Peter Borre'

Brought up in Rome, old-style Jesuit School; college in U.S.; graduate MA and MBA; service in USN; career in energy sector, government, Big Oil, consulting, own company; currently convoying two dozen canon appeals through Vatican; clients are parishioners fighting against diocesan bishops' closing of parishes and churches; some successes; frequent trips to Rome, network of contacts in Curia and Rome-based media

German Bishops and German Taxes

         The Synod: German Bishops and German Taxes!


Several Synod watchers are suggesting that consensus may not be attainable for two of the Pope’s reform initiatives: Communion for divorced Catholics and a more welcoming attitude towards gays.

The Communion proposal seems to have generated more than its fair share of criticism from the floor.

Yet it has the backing of its leading proponent, Germany’s Cardinal Walter Kasper; and the German Conference of Bishops. But no other conference seems to have weighed in.

Why this focused German concern at such high levels?

Could there be profane and perhaps sordid considerations?

Read on.


As the end of the Synod (“The 14th ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops”) approaches with a closing Mass in San Pietro next Sunday, October 25, astute media observers are suggesting an impasse due to the unwillingness of the Synod fathers to come up with two-thirds voting approval of the Pope’s two signature ‘reforms’ presented at the beginning:

The Sacrament of Communion for divorced Catholics; and a more welcoming attitude towards gays.

The face-saver at Synod’s end could be a study group ‘for deeper discernment’. In other words, kicking the proverbial can down the road.

Most of the negotiating energy during this Synod has been consumed on the issue of Communion for the divorced.

In the U.S. some 40% of Catholic marriages hit the rocks, below the national average of 50% for all marriages. But this Synod initiative has its strongest sponsorship from the German episcopate, in particular from Cardinal Walter Kasper, with active and vocal support from a clear majority of the German Bishops’ Conference:

“…the majority of German bishops favor […] Kasper’s proposal to allow some divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive Communion” (National Catholic Register, February 2015);

“…we are not just a subsidiary of Rome” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx (ibid.).”

No other national bishops’ conference has been this outspoken on the most contentious issue in the Synod.

Warum? Perché? Why?

Well, ‘follow the money’.

Germany suffered from the Berlin Wall for almost thirty years, but in some matters there is no wall of separation between church and state. As is widely known, there is a national Church Tax levied upon the taxpayers, between 8 and 9% of income; almost a tithe. When a Catholic child is baptized the civil authorities are informed, and this follows the baby to adulthood and the joys of paying income taxes.

If, for whatever reason, the individual wishes to avoid the tax, he/she must go to the authorities and basically ‘renounce’ the faith for which they had been signed up.

A small matter, you say? Not so…for the five-year period running from 2009 through 2013, more than 820,000 adult German Catholics have dis-enrolled as Catholics by filing a formal statement.

To make things worse, the scope of the 8-9% Church Tax bite on income was expanded about a year ago, to include capital gains on asset sales.

For the most recently reported year, 2014, a total of almost 218,000 German Catholics formally renounced their faith, while also walking away from a hefty capital gains tax liability. The 2014 adult Catholic dropouts (technically apostates, I suppose) amounted to a jump of almost 40,000 over the 2013 total of 179,000.

So how is all of this connected with the Synod?

In past years, by anecdotal evidence divorced Catholics in smaller communities were on the receiving end of unfriendly scowls from other worshippers, and sometimes were denied Communion since their illicit status was widely known in the parish.

Keep in mind that the heaviest concentration of Germany’s Catholics is in the Deep South dioceses of Munich, Regensburg, Freiburg, Trier, and Würzburg – all of which are much more rural than most other areas of the Federal Republic.

Now put into the mix the recent extension of the income tax bite to capital assets, which can hit folks close to retirement pretty hard as they downsize but then watch almost 10% of their gain go to a Church that is decidedly unwelcoming. And you don’t need a financial adviser to do the math.

This would seem to explain the vehemence of the German bishops in support of Communion for divorced Catholics. A stretch?

Well, why has no other national episcopal conference weighed in so heavily, to the point of telling Rome to ‘buzz off’, “we are not just a subsidiary of Rome?

Do you hear echoes of Martin Luther, whose 500th comes up in less than two years?

In any event, as Sherlock famously commented, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. “









Power Shift in Rome…

Link below to today’s Boston Herald front page article re ‘power shift in Rome’.
Quotes from two experts at BC and Holy Cross, and your’s truly.

This is a stunning announcement. If implemented:
A devolution of power to the peripheries, but where – exactly?
regional (continental) episcopal conference, national episcopal conferences, or 3,000 diocese and eparchies?

I am betting on the 3,000 ‘subsidiaries, 90% Latin Rite, 10% Eastern.
But raises profound questions:
The bishop of Rome become primus inter pares.
And the heads of 3,000 ‘subsidiaries’?
What is the nucleic binding force among them? No enforcers left in the Curia Romana, just advisers…that seems to be the preferred option based on chatter in Rome.

These wheels are already in motion, with the Pope’s Council of Nine scheduled to take recommendations from consultants (McKinsey!) in the spring on a drastic reshuffle of the Roman Curia: mergers and significant cuts in staffing.
Welcome to my world of suppressed parishes and closed churches, Curiali.

Structural reform or Vatican House of Cards? Stay tuned.
Peter Borre’


Bishops’ Synod in Rome at Halfway Point: Keep Your Friends Close…

Bishops’ Synod in Rome at Halfway Point:   Keep your friends close and your enemies at stiletto-length


As the Synod of the Bishops comes to the mid-point of its three weeks of meetings in Rome focused on pastoral reform, there is growing opposition to the Pope’s agenda, some of it coming from cardinals Francis has relied upon in the running of the Church, and one American cardinal hand-picked by him to get around the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Cardinal George Pell, the tough Aussie who needs all of his rugby-playing skill to bring to account the Vatican’s non-transparent financial institutions;

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of NY, considered to be a strong supporter of Francis; just ask the cardinal if in doubt.

If the Synod fails to implement the Pope’s modest reform proposals (Communion for divorced Catholics, a friendlier face to gays), or waters th proposals down to ridiculousness, the core of the Pope’s legacy will be pastoral style, not doctrinal substance.  On the subject of il ridicolo, Hungary’s Primate Cardinal Peter Erdo [no Hungarian umlaut, sorry] has rejected the suggestion that divorced Catholics living in sin could receive the Sacrament if they remain celibate!  A new canonical category: Friends without benefits.


With Talmudic-like scrutiny by the specialized corps of vaticanisti, extensive coverage in the Italian media and some pick-up in the U.S., the ongoing Bishop’s jamboree in Rome has reached the halfway mark, heading towards its scheduled close of October 25.

What do we know at halftime?

This is harder going for the Pope than anticipated.There are increasing signs of resistance to his reform agenda: Communion for divorced Catholics; and a more welcoming attitude (read less hostile) towards gays, but don’t even dream of seeing the LGBT acronym in the discussion documents.

And there is an increasing likelihood of an inconclusive outcome, something along the lines of a watered-down U.N. Security Council Resolution.

To those who say, what’s the point of following the deliberations of a clerical group of elderly, self-styled celibates, a few geo-religious reminders:

  1. The Roman Church by its own stats counts almost 1.3 billion adherents;
  2. Spectacular growth rates in sub-Sahara Africa, notwithstanding violent Islamist opposition – cfr. northern Nigeria;
  3. Dwindling flocks in Europe, but still a significant presence – almost 290 million faithful, but in demographic decline;
  4.  A Catholic buffer zone between Russia and Europe of about 50 million believers in the resident population of 57 million, running from the Baltic to the Adriatic:  Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia; and
  5. A Church in the U.S. in accelerating decline, but still a substantial presence concentrated in strategic electoral swing states:                                   Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin in the Catholic America’s ‘rust belt’;  Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico in high-growth Hispanic areas.

The resistance to the Pope is epitomized by the curious case of A Letter from Thirteen Cardinals alleged to have been sent to the Pope, and supposedly signed by 13 Princes of the Church, raising in somewhat forthright style (compared to the usual oleaginous formulations) points such as the following:

a number of concerns;”

the Synod discussion document which “would benefit from substantial…reworking;”

“lack of input by the synod fathers;”

procedures…not true to the traditional…purpose of a synod;” and

A Synod that “may become dominated by the…issue of Communion for the divorced.”

 For those of you who have not suffered through Vatican documents and deliberations, these are blunt words when addressed to the Vicar of Christ on Earth, especially since the letter attacks the centerpiece of his pastoral agenda.

What is even more surprising is the identity of the 13 signatories.

While the roster has not been confirmed, and ‘some’ (unnamed) have disavowed their support for, or involvement with, the letter, there are some striking names:

Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s economic supremo, and the ‘Oceania’ rep on the Pope’s Council of Nine Cardinals – his most important advisory body;

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, keeper of the faith through his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict’s selection for that key post;

Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of the world’s largest diocese – Milan, and a leading contender for the Throne of St. Peter at the 2013 Conclave, significantly ahead of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio by the handicappers;


Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York.

This last name is a surprise. Cardinal Dolan is high profile – punto e basta.  But he was overlooked by his American brother-bishops when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops named its delegation to the Synod.  And to add insult to this injury, the USCCB did include Archbishop Charles Chaput, the decidedly conservative ordinary of Philadelphia. However, the Pope has the prerogative of naming delegates of his own to the Synod; ‘it’s good to be the Pope’ as Mel Brooks might say.

So as the opening date approached, Cardinal Dolan got his admission ticket to the Synod directly from Francis, giving the cardinal a voice and one vote among the 270 that will be cast by the Church fathers when the conclusions of the Synod are presented for endorsement.

It is really not a stretch to believe that Francis named the NY cardinal in the hope of support for the pontiff’s agenda.

Francis convened the Synod in 2014 to move through by consensus some modest pastoral proposals involving divorced couples and gay Catholics.

Keep in mind that the Pope’s global popularity is built upon his personal style, as well as a message of mercy and inclusiveness.


The Synod is his chosen mechanism for doctrinal (oops, make that ‘pastoral’) reform.

However, the law of unintended consequences may be at work as the Synod develops a life of its own.

Thirty years ago a reformist leader took over a global empire that had been stuck in a doctrinal time warp for 70 years, the USSR. In retrospect it is clear that Mikhail Gorbachev was not a revolutionary, not even a CIA plant (as millions of Russians still believe), but a believing Communist (to this day) who launched two reform initiatives:

Transparency (glasnost) and restructuring (perestroika), both of these entirely within the four corners of Marxist orthodoxy.

And where is Russia today? Heading back to the USSR in all but name.

It is worth remembering Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous observation:

The most dangerous moment for a bad government is usually when it begins to reform itself.

To which one might add, regarding faith-based empires:

Schism happens.






The Pope and a KGB alumnus walk into a bazaar…


The glory days of the Reagan-John Paul II alliance are indeed in the past.

Lost in the media noise of the Pope Francis’ recent Acela visit to the East Coast, notwithstanding 8,000 accredited media folks, is his deepening concern about the ISIS slaughter of Christians in the Middle East, including 20 million Catholics; and future risks to 5 million Catholics in western Ukraine, if the Russian-backed separatists move more deeply into that nation.

So in the strategic realignments now in motion, the growing entente between the Holy See and Russia should not be overlooked.


Vatican diplomacy moves in mysterious ways.

In 1981 a quiet alliance materialized between the Reagan administration and (not yet a saint) John Paul II, with the binding force provided by a convergence of views between the Polish Pope and several prominent Catholic Reaganauts, notably:

Secretary of State Al Haig; Haig’s #2, Bill Clark; CIA Director Bill Casey; National Security Adviser Dick Allen; and Ambassador-at-Large Dick Walters – a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

A U.S. strategy of differentiation was adopted, namely reinforcing the administration’s across-the-board push against the entire Soviet Bloc by focusing on its weakest link – Catholic Poland.

Money (lots of it) flowed from Langley to the IOR – the Vatican’s fabled bank, and then throughout a grassroots network of parishes and labor activists in Poland. Of course there were frictional losses within this financial logistical system, but overall it worked, and the U.S.S.R. came tumbling down – for a while.

Two generations later, in today’s turbulent world the Vatican has significant stakes in two war zones – Ukraine, and ISIS-controlled areas of North Africa and the Middle East.

In Ukraine, more than 10% of the population (4.9 million out of 45 million total, according to Vatican statistics) consists of Catholics, mostly members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in communion with Rome.

And, by the same stats, there are close to 20 million Catholics across North Africa and the Middle East, almost all of the Eastern Rite, and concentrated in Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

From contacts in the Curia Romana, it is clear that Pope Francis is deeply worried.

The situation in NA/ME is much more acute than in Ukraine because Christians – Catholics and other Christian denominations – are being slaughtered for the mere fact of being ‘unbelievers’.

In Ukraine the current situation is short of the crisis point for the Catholic 10% concentrated in three western regions (oblasts), not yet within range of the eastern secessionists.

The Pope has met twice with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, most recently in June. Prior to that meeting, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See pushed hard for a papal condemnation of Russia’s cross-border invasions (Crimea and Ukraine’s East). But the Pope took an above-the-fray stance with Putin, emphasizing the “importance of dialogue and the needs for all concerned parties to implement the [Minsk] agreements.” (USA Today, June 10, 2015).

The clear and present danger for the Vatican is ISIS, which has threatened to come to Rome to deal with the Great Crusader.

In the face of this very real menace, it is not hard to discern that a grand bargain may be emerging, involving Russia and the Vatican.

In Syria the U.S. has remained on the sidelines for the past four years, notwithstanding 200,000 deaths there, and President Bashar al-Assad’s breach of a red-line by resorting to chemical warfare against his own people.

So Russia is now stepping into the geopolitical vacuum.

One of the levers of Putin’s domestic autocratic power is the Russian Orthodox Church. And although that hierarchy’s feelings for the Vatican are decidedly cool, ISIS is creating a broad coalition consisting of Russia, Iran, many EU countries beset by fleeing civilians; and the Holy See as a silent partner.

This is not mere supposition. There are audible Whispers in the Palazzo Apostolico about the activist role of Vatican diplomats now at the pinnacle of the Curia Romana:

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State and de facto prime minister;

Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (replacing the inconvenient Cardinal Raymond Burke); and

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy with direct oversight over 223 thousand Catholic parishes around the globe. Measure yourself against that, Donald Trump…It’s yooooge.

Russia brings to the table its readiness to deploy hard power against ISIS, and an apparent willingness not to push further west into Ukraine where millions of Ukrainian Catholics are concentrated.

The Vatican gets from Russia a more robust effort to protect all Christians as well as its’ own flock 20 million strong, against ISIS.

And – maybe – a standstill for a while in Russia’s aggression aimed at pulling Ukraine back into its buffer zone of vassal states. A deeper move of the local Ukrainian proxies (and sheep-dipped Russian troops) towards Ukraine’s west would expand a brutal civil war, given the vast cultural and religious differences between eastern and western Ukraine.

In return Putin gains from the Vatican increased international respectability, broadens European support for Russia’s return to the Middle East, and probably gets a loosening or outright lifting of EU sanctions.

So the Vatican’s reflexive anti-communism is a thing of the past. But then again, Putin is too smart to be a commie.


As for American policy in the Middle East, the George Washington of Egypt, from 1952 until his sudden death in 1970, was President Gamal Abdel Nasser. It is still debated whether he was a CIA asset, or just pocketed the agency’s money and did his own thing. This is what Nasser had to say about U.S. moves in the Middle East:

The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them that we are missing.















Vatican Marriage Annulments

Vatican Marriage Annulments

On September 22, Hurricane Francis will make landfall at Andrews AFB, marking the start of the Pope’s historic visit to the U.S. Saturation media rain may be expected for His Holiness’ mega-events in DC, NYC and Philly; on Sept. 27 it will be wheels-up back to Rome.

His trip is mostly political: a meeting in the Oval, the first-ever papal address to a Joint Meeting of Congress (about one-third RCs), and a speech to the UN General Assembly. The culmination will be a visit to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Political as in ‘policy’ doesn’t mean getting mired in the ongoing Washington mud-fight, but speaking about issues that have global implications, yet are not doctrinal in Church teaching, notably the plight of migrants, income inequality and climate change.

But on the doctrinal front, during his papacy Francis was mostly quiet until September 8 last when his Instructions (Motu Proprio) to the Latin-rite and Eastern-rite bishops and eparchs on the Church’s marriage annulment process were made public.

Some might say that his famous “who am I to judge” statement on the issue of gays was a doctrinal foray.

Hogwash…try finding anything new about this in papal encyclicals and instructions, or in canons and decrees.

In summary, the annulment Instructions mean that an uncontested request for an annulment could be fast-tracked in as little as 45 days, be free of charge, and not be subject to appeal to Rome unless something egregious jumped out of the case file – such as blatantly false affidavits, not unknown in current proceedings.

Contrast this with a Kennedy annulment granted by the Archdiocese of Boston that was challenged by one of the spouses in 1996, adjudicated in Rome in 2005, and officially notified to the parties in 2007.

The discussion below focuses on three topics:

The Kennedy annulment process of 1996-2007; another Kennedy-related annulment that ran from 1959 to 1962; and finally the very topical significance of these Instructions for the Pope’s efforts to dismantle the Vatican bureaucracy – a preview of coming attractions for next summer release.

The annulment proceedings involving Joseph P. Kennedy II and Sheila Rauch have received extensive media coverage for the incredible timeline involved.

It appears that the Boston Archdiocese granted the annulment around 1996, after which Ms. Rauch was notified that her 1979 Church marriage had been annulled – i.e. it never existed. Sometime later (1996 as reported) she appealed to Rome to have the annulment annulled, i.e. to have her 1979 Church marriage restored as a valid one, canonically speaking. But it took at least ten years for her to receive formal notification that her appeal had in fact been granted. That is pretty crazy, even by the sclerotic practices of the Roman Curia. A canon lawyer who followed the proceedings commented to me in Rome shortly after the 2007 decision became public:


All you have to do is look at the U.S. political calendar to figure out when it was opportune to take on the Massachusetts monarchia, i.e. in the twilight of Zio Ted’s career.

A less publicized Kennedyesque annulment took place in the early 1960s involving Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s sister Lee and Lee’s then-beau Prince Stanislaus Radziwill.

As JFK prepared for the 1960 campaign that would feature his Catholic faith as a prominent issue, his sister-in-law’s failed Catholic marriage with Michael Canfield loomed as the proverbial elephant in the room.

So the Kennedy machine went into high gear, with assistance from Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing.

Lee Bouvier’s inconvenient Church marriage to Michael Canfield was annulled in Rome in 1962, warp speed for the Curia Romana.

Her husband-to-be had been more foresighted, or perhaps just lucky.

Radziwill’s inconvenient first marriage in 1940, Catholic of course, was annulled in 1958. Thus his second civil marriage of 1946 had no standing under canon law, since prior to his 1958 annulment he was still married to Wife #1; as Dr. Spock might say, quite logical.

Lee and ‘Stas’ married in a civil ceremony in 1959. After Lee’s annulment came through in 1962, the way was clear for a proper Church wedding.

A close relative of mine was involved in this accelerated proceeding.

Alas, Lee and Stas did not live happily ever-after, divorcing in 1974. But still married to one another, in the eyes of the Church.

In a broader perspective, over the years American annulments granted by the Vatican range from 60% to 80% of all annulments world wide, and are known as Divorzio all’Americana.

This is a tribute to a Marcello Mastroianni film, Divorzio all’Italiana, where Marcello’s character, Barone Cefalu has only way out of his inconvenient marriage: to goad his long-neglected wife Donna Rosalia into adultery, catch her in flagrante, shoot the straying wife, and then benefit from the Italian Penal Code where until 1980 a delitto d’onore (honor killing) benefited from major extenuating circumstances. Of course this loophole was only available to the husband.

In plainer words, the Vatican annulment process in force until the Pope’s September 8 Instructions was widely recognized for what it was – just Catholic gobbledegook, as one of the Kennedys is reported to have said.

So what does the Annulment Instruction mean more broadly?

Narrowly, in a defined category of marriages where the annulment is uncontested, the power to annul is delegated to 2,989 bishops and eparchs world wide. No need to go to Rome to get a second, confirming decree. This puts out of business most of the Vatican’s canonical annulment infrastructure: judges, court officials, advocates.

OMG. This is truly a Big Deal. It means that Rome is almost entirely out of the annulment biz, with almost 3,000 dioceses and eparchies doing their individual thing.

So you could eventually see a very wide variety of procedures and decisions.

Once upon a time Reno NV was the go-to venue for quickie divorces.

Maybe quickie annulments from the Diocese of Podunk will become all the rage, and a boost to the Podunk economy.

But more broadly, from my own soundings in Rome over this summer, some prelates in the Vatican view these annulment Instructions as a trial run for future Instructions that would dismantle many other categories of canon appeals:

parish suppressions, church deconsecrations, pastor removals, priest defrocking, to name just a few.

Under this scenario, Catholic laypeople and priests would only have recourse to the local hierarchy – period, full stop.

So the diocese and eparchy would review their own handiwork, and pass final sentence.

On almost any given day that you go through the working entrance to Vatican City, the Porta Sant’Anna, you may find yourself in the midst of sleek young advisers with fancy briefcases: management consultants, CPAs, media wizards. Things are stirring in the Vatican as Francis’ Council of Nine continues its quiet work of devolving power to the dioceses and eparchies.

For American Catholics in the pews, if you like your bishop or eparch, you will love this kind of reform.









Shifting my blog to my Facebook page…

Hello Friends, Clients and Electronic Acquaintances:

Over past years some of you have followed my activity involving the Roman Curia and many North American parishioner groups faced with the loss of their churches – I stopped counting when my canon appeals tally passed 100.

To date I have limited myself to communicating with you via occasional blast emails, as well as infrequent blog posts that have been gathering electronic dust.

But since we all suffer from too much email, I have decided to stop cluttering your Inboxes (except for this parting shot), and instead to use my Facebook page (Peter Borre) for more frequent and shorter-form commentary on Res Catholicae.

I will keep postings down to a manageable size, around 800 wds; will post more frequently, maybe leavened by pics and links to relevant articles from the world media I peruse; and will try to remain fact-based, where possible making clear any connection I might have with a posting; and limit (most) editorializing to a Close Comment.

In the next few days I will post something on the Pope’s recent Motu Proprio (essentially an instruction, not cleared with the Curia) regarding Quickie Annulments.

My own connection is fact-finding in Rome regarding the eight-year canon proceeding involving the annulment of an annulment for members of Massachusetts premier political family.


Why more reports on Catholic stuff?

There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of commentators on developments within the Church, ranging from astute, long-time observers of the Vatican in Rome, major media outlets that periodically glom onto the Roman esperti, metro dailies that re-write diocesan press releases, and local parishioner blogs and opeds across 175 U.S. dioceses.

(Richard Milhous Nixon, demon of my youth, you were right about One Big Thing: the media.)


With no pretense at modesty, the hundred+ canon appeals I have handled are spread across 40 American dioceses, and my bi-monthly trips to Italy to push the appeals directly within the Roman Curia give me an unusual transatlantic perspective – a grass-roots view of the spreading dysfunction within many American dioceses, and the tilted appellate playing field in Rome where many of these appeals are treated with brutal disregard for the facts as well as the Code of Canon Law itself.

This involves much more than arcane debates over Canon 1222 or 515. My focus is upon the maneuvers I have observed – with gritted teeth – by such luminaries as New York’s Cardinals Dolan and Egan; Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley; Philly’s Archbishop Chaput; Cleveland’s Bishop Lennon; Metuchen’s Bishop Bootkoski; Youngstown’s Bishop Murry; and Esztergom-Budapest’s Cardinal Erdo [sorry, I cannot get the symbol for the Hungarian umlaut, aka the double acute accent]; et alii prelati.

 What about the traditional media?

With noteworthy exceptions, the coverage of the Vatican and the Church Universal by mainstream media, by specialists and by the new media, leaves a lot to be desired:

Some of this coverage is outright cheer-leading; to paraphrase The Eagles, I guess every form of access has its price;

Other coverage lines up along the typical spectrum of progressive-to-conservative, and tilts accordingly;

Some reporting descends to the mind-numbing minutiae of doctrinal debate, usually evoking a WTF from readers, while others in this sub-species treat doctrinal developments like a WWE event, which prelate took down another…”OMG! Cardinal Burke pinned Cardinal Kasper, video at 11pm.”

On the level of dioceses and parishes where real stuff actually happens, media coverage consists mostly of softball inquiries to the hierarchy and poignant quotes from distraught parishioners thrown out of their parishes; but without any reporting.

From a recent $3 million church sale in East Boston:

No digging for essential facts – was the sale of two city blocks of parish property at fair market value, or was it a sweetheart deal for two developers living at the Four Seasons; and

No effort to put this deal into the broader context of the accelerating decline of one of America’s oldest dioceses, where since 2000 the parish presence has been downsized from 400 to about 130 (by 2017), and where Catholic Boston has an abysmally meager Mass attendance ratio – in the Low Teens, one of the worst across the country).

One other point:

With the rock-star popularity of Pope Francis, his imminent trip to Cuba and the U.S., and his October face-off in Rome with 250 cardinals and bishops during the Synod of Bishops, the global relevance of developments inside the Church is surging, spilling into domains such as the U.S. Congress (first-ever papal address to a Joint Meeting); the 2016 Presidential election cycle, with at least five RC contenders of the GOP side, and four maybes on the Dem side); U.N. deliberations on climate change; E.U. policy on refugees; and the chaos ranging from Western Asia, through the Middle East and across North Africa, where Christians are being slaughtered because of their professed faith.

Ave atque Vale.




Three Days that have shaken France, Ten Days that may shake the Vatican

Three Days that have shaken France;
Ten Days that may shake the Vatican

France: January 7 through 9…
As the shock from those three terrible days across Greater Paris turns to numbness, attitudes crystallize and recriminations fly through the media.
While there has been justified criticism of the absence of a ranking American official in the iconic picture of January 10, showing about 40 political leaders with their arms locked together in solidarity, where were Catholic France’s cardinaux et évêques?

Consider the following statistics about France:
Total population of 66 million (World Bank);
Catholic population of 50 million (Vatican Statistical Yearbook);
Muslim population of 4.7 million (Pew Research Center);
Jewish population of 478 thousand (Institute for Jewish Policy Research).

So, with self-described Catholics about 10X the combined total for Muslim and Jewish faithful, one would think that the Church might be a rallying point for civil society of all faiths. But not so…
The sad truth is that in the emerging ‘post-9/11’ trauma in France, the role of the Catholic hierarchy is insignificant.

Santa Città del Vaticano: February 6 through 15…
From February 6 through 8, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors “will hold its plenary session,” meaning that this long-dormant entity announced in December of 2013 will finally have its official launch in early February of 2015 with all of its members assembled for the first time. The Commission’s president is Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley.

From February 9 through 11, the Pope’s advisory council of nine cardinals (aka the C9) will hold another session, in all likelihood rolling out long-anticipated recommendations for the reform of the Roman Curia through an initial phase of departmental mergers and consolidations. There is recurring talk of elevating an obscure body, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, to the full rank of a Curia congregation, i.e. a department.

And on February 14-15 a Consistory will be held, the anointing of 20 cardinals, of whom 15 will be cardinal-electors.

The connection between the recent events in France and the imminent events in Rome is, on the one hand…
A disheartening glimpse of the past – namely the squandered legacy of many centuries, evidenced by the sharp decline of Catholicism in France; and, on the other hand…
A cloudy view of the future through the lens of Pope Francis’ effort to reform and revitalize the Catholic Church.

By all accounts of last October’s Synod on the Family, the front-burner controversies for the leading Catholic hierarchy assembled were:
Whether to consider Communion for divorced Catholics, and
Language in the working document that records the Church’s stance on gays; and whether it should state,
“..are we capable of welcoming these people [sic]…in our communities?”

One might think that the religious hierarchy leading three-fourths of France’s population would be front-and-center in the public debate about the root causes of the sectarian violence aimed at Europe’s largest Jewish population, almost 500 thousand people.

Ok, ok, France’s rigid separation of church and state, going back to the Law of 1905, or perhaps to the French Revolution, has created a legislated No-Man’s-Land between the two domains.
But in recent years that has not deterred Catholic cardinals and bishops from intervening vehemently in the national debate about same-sex marriage in France.

Looking back at not-so-recent French history, with the collapse of France in the spring of 1940, a collaborationist government under the thumb of the Nazis was installed in Vichy. But the Nazis dominance in Occupied France until late 1942, and then their complete take-over, did NOT prevent many in the Catholic hierarchy from embracing enthusiastically the Vichy regime, which was in fact crypto-fascist.
Check out Casablanca for the details.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II it took a lot of damage control by the Vatican to address the French hierarchy’s involvement with the sordid Vichy ‘government’.
In 1946 Pope Pius XII bowed to Charles de Gaulle’s request that the tainted wartime papal nuncio be replaced, and in an inspired move the Pope sent to Paris as nuncio a down-to-earth monsignore, Angelo Roncalli, who in 1958 acceded to the papacy as John XXIII.

Putting aside centuries of deep involvement by the Catholic hierarchy in the governance of France…Cardinal Richelieu in the XVIIth century; defrocked Bishop Talleyrand in the Napoleonic era, and so forth…what could be the role of the Church in the crisis that now besets France?

Today there is a Catholic grass-roots infrastructure of 15,000+ parishes to serve France’s 50 million Catholics, or 300 parishes per million.
(This is more intensive coverage than America’s 17,000 parishes for 70 million Catholics, about 242 parishes per million, disproportionately concentrated in swing Electoral College states).

But if you dig deeper into Catholic France, the overwhelming Catholic presence is much less than meets the eye:
The French Bishops Conference reports to Rome that only 5% of self-described Catholics are regular worshippers, i.e. about 2.5 million people in the pews.
Contrast this with Muslims, where the Council of Imams reports that 75% of France’s 5 million Muslims are regulars at Friday prayers, i.e. 3.75 million faithful in the Mosques; 50% than the soi-disant Catholics, with one-tenth of the worshipper base.
Worse, while there are indeed 15,000+ Catholic parishes, more than half of them are without a resident pastor (Vatican stats).
Which explains why deconsecrated Catholic churches are for sale (cfr. the recent Wall Street Journal article, Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale).
In parallel, imams are lining up for building permits to erect Mosques, with lavish financing from several Arab petro-states.

A few addenda:
The shortage of clergy is for real in Catholic France, not merely a contrivance of diocesan bishops who decry the clergy shortage while quietly telling religious orders to clear out (cfr. Boston, Cleveland, Syracuse, Metuchen and Philly…you catch the drift).

France’s Muslim population of almost 5 million is probably an undercount, but even at this reported level, while Germany has a slightly higher Muslim population, France has on its territory the highest percentage of Muslims and Jews in Western Europe; in today’s context, an explosive mixture.

This is precisely the moment when French civil society should rally at the grass roots level, mobilized in no small degree by France’s communities of faith.
But beyond some ritualistic condemnations of violence, the Catholic hierarchy is off-stage. Catholic France is in an advanced state of decline, and the Catholic hierarchy is irrelevant as the nation now lurches into an uncertain new era where Islamists will intensify their murderous assaults against France’s Jews.

Most students who have suffered through a course in Medieval History know the classic story of the Fall of Constantinople in 1453:
Under siege by the Ottoman Turks ringing the city, during the final days Constantinople’s council of elders was debating the most important theological issue of the day, the sex of angels (boy or girl?).
Strange how more than half a millennium later, the Church Universal is still so hung up on “pelvic” issues.

Vatican City
Coming less than two years since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election to the papacy, the imminent events in Rome during February will probably be the defining period of Pope Francis’ brief papacy. There is a logical connectedness among these important gatherings, scheduled to unfold in rapid succession over a ten-day span.

From February 6 through 8, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors “will hold its plenary session,” meaning that this long-dormant entity announced in December of 2013 will finally have its official launch.
The Commission president is Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley; its secretary (and for a year its sole staffer) is the Rev. Robert Oliver, formerly the canonical adviser to Boston’s disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law. Considering Law’s track record on protecting minor’s in Boston until his stealthy departure in December, 2002, one may well wonder about the canonical advice His Eminence was receiving during the 1990s.

From February 9 through 11, the Pope’s advisory council of nine cardinals (the C9) will hold a plenary session, in all likelihood rolling out its long-anticipated recommendations for the reform of the Roman Curia through mergers and consolidations. Cardinal O’Malley is the ex officio representative for North America.

And on February 14-15 the Consistory will be held, anointing formally 20 new cardinals.

The O’Malley Commission puts the issue of clergy sex abuse of minors squarely inside the Vatican as something that can no longer be sloughed off as the problem of an individual diocese, or a religious order, or a particular national episcopal conference.
The imminent launch of the O’Malley is belated recognition that the Church’s nightmare is not over, and in fact is re-emerging on a global scale, well beyond the ability to cope of national bishops conferences.
Stay tuned for the report of the UN panel which held hearings last year in Geneva.
It is also worth noting that there is now a defined entity within the Vatican State itself that bears formal responsibility for clergy abuse oversight. To date, at the level of the Vatican there was merely appellate, case-by-case oversight by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
So beware the law of unintended consequences: this organizational development may encourage aggressive tort attorneys [oops, a blatant redundancy] to update their research on the legal responsibility of the Vatican as a sovereign state, through the exceptions set out in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976. Lawyers, start your engines.

The C9’s recommendations on the Curia, all but certain to be endorsed by the Supreme Pontiff, will begin to rearrange the Vatican’s organization charts – probably in a more comprehensive manner than has been seen in decades.
For starters, it is widely thought that the Pontifical Council for the Laity will be elevated to the higher status of a congregation, i.e. a formal department of the Vatican.
The breadth and depth of the Nine Cardinals’ recommendations will bring into focus how serious the Pope is about devolving power from the center in Rome to the periphery, i.e. to the 5,000 dioceses and eparchies around the globe.

And the Consistory signals the Pope’s vision for leadership at all levels – in the Curia, in major dioceses, and in the re-balancing of the continental geographic blocs within the College of Cardinal-Electors, which holds the power of papal selection.

As Stalin once observed, accepting from Lenin in 1922 the then-obscure position of general secretary of the party’s Central Committee, policy is personnel.
The all-important details of the consistory have been picked over thoroughly by the Vaticanisti. The key points:
Not a single norte-americano to be found in the batch, although some U.S. Sees could have justified a red hat as the ordinary;
Only one member of the Vatican Curia has been selected, the incoming head of the Signatura who by law must be a cardinal;
Two prestigious Italian Sees that would have easily rated a cardinal-in-charge, will have to make do with mere archbishops: Turin and Venice; and
Some rather unusual Sees will soon be headed by cardinals, notably Yangon, Tonga and Cape Verde.

Not too much of a stretch to discern a weakening of the Italian-American grip on the cardinal-electors in the College; at the March, 2013 conclave, this contingent consisted of 39 red hats, precisely one-third of the present-and-voting 117 prelates in the Cappella Sistina.
Considering that for the early ballots of Conclave voting a two-thirds majority is required for election, it is remarkable that the cardinals from two nations with only 10% of the world-wide flock held a 33% veto power.
And it adds insult to injury to keep in mind that in Italy and the U.S., churches are emptying out.
Perhaps as a healthy corrective to this voting imbalance, there are trial balloons coming out of Rome on the possibility of expanding the College of Cardinal-Electors, something not fixed by dogma, but at the discretion of the Pope.
Per a recent report of Italy’s news agency ANSA,
Pope Francis is considering the feasibility of expanding the number of cardinal electors…to 140 from the current 120.”
Stalin was right – policy does come down to personnel.

Alongside this Vaticanology, one should also bear in mind the thunderbolt hurled by the Pope at the Vatican Curia, which was assembled in the Palazzo Apostolico’s baroque Clementine Hall for what was expected to be a pleasant Merry Christmas address on December 22 last.
Instead of auguri, the cardinals and bishops were on the receiving end of a harsh papal speech.
Per the official account of his remarks [translated below] here are some gems:

The Curia “like any body…is exposed to sickness…The sickness of considering oneself …’indispensable’”
“…those who immerse themselves in work, invariably neglecting. ..sitting at Jesus’ feet
the sickness of mental and spiritual hardening…those who…conceal themselves behind paper and become working machines
The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism
Spiritual Alzheimer’s…progressive decline of spiritual faculties
“…existential schizophrenia: the sickness of those who lead a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre…those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic matters…”

Care to name your candidates for the top five American chanceries where much of this is in evidence? Try:
Braintree MA
Philadelphia PA
Cleveland OH
Newark NJ

End Comment
In the wake of last October’s Synod, it has become clear that the center of gravity of opposition to Francis is within the American hierarchy.
Much of the pushback is sotto voce, but on-the-record comments about confusion caused by the Pope are the functional equivalent of F-bombs in Vatican-speak.
As a guess, Francis will have to move more rapidly on the senior personnel front if he wishes to safeguard the reform process he has initiated. At age 78, he has been dropping hints about his eventual departure.
But for disheartened Catholics, including the 40% (!) of Americans who have distanced themselves from the Church (cfr. Georgetown’s CARA), there is some comfort to be drawn from a famous exchange between one of Napoleon’s generals, who led the French troops that occupied Rome in 1809, and the Vatican’s secretary of state:

The general, frustrated at the resistance he was getting from the cardinal, burst out:
Your Eminence, are you not aware that the Emperor has the power to destroy the Catholic Church?
To which Cardinal Ercole Consalvi replied slyly:
Mon général, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the Church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.
God willing.