Closing the book on the Cardinals’ Letter

The letter of a number of cardinals to Pope Francis, which I wrote about yesterday, was a private piece of correspondence that was never meant to be made public, and the version that was made public is clearly not accurate. I have already added notes to treat all reporting about the letter with extreme care, but today’s statement from Fr. Lombardi should be enough to end speculation.

federico-lombardi“As we are aware, at least four of the Synod Fathers who were included in the list of signatories have denied their involvement (Cardinals Angelo Scola, Andre Vingt-Trois, Mauro Piacenza and Peter Erdo). [Add Wilfrid Napier and Norberto Rivera Carrera to that list]

Cardinal Pell has declared that a letter sent to the Pope was confidential and should have remained as such, and that neither the text published nor the signatories correspond to what was sent to the Pope.

I would add that, in terms of content, the difficulties included in the letter were mentioned on Monday evening in the Synod Hall, as I have previously said, although not covered extensively or in detail.

As we know, the General Secretary and the Pope responded clearly the following morning. Therefore, to provide this text and this list of signatories some days later constitutes a disruption that was not intended by the signatories (at least by the most authoritative). Therefore it would be inappropriate to allow it to have any influence.

That observations can be made regarding the methodology of the Synod is neither new nor surprising. However, once agreed upon, a commitment is made to put it into practice in the best way possible.

This is what is taking place. There is very extensive collaboration in the task of allowing the Synod to make good progress on its path. It may be observed that some of the “signatories” are elected Moderators of the Circuli Minori, and have been working intensively. The overall climate of the Assembly is without doubt positive.

Cardinal Napier has expressly asked me to clarify the comments published in an interview with “Crux”, which do not correspond to his opinion. With regard to the composition of the “Commission of the 10” for the final text, it was incorrectly written that “… Napier said, adding that he would actually challenge ‘Pope Francis’ right to choose that’”. Cardinal Napier has requested that this be corrected, affirming the exact opposite: “… no-one challenges Pope Francis’ right to choose that”.

I have no further observations to make.”

Many have been spouting conspiracy theories left and right, but it is my opinion (and policy on this blog) not to participate in that sort of thing. Discussion is necessary, both in the Synod and outside it, but it must be factual and about the topic at hand, not coloured by our own ideas of what does or does not happen behind the scenes, and certainly not about the people. We may disagree with ideas and thoughts, but is it really constructive or useful to then denounce those who came up with them as reactionaries, schismatics or even heretics? I hope that I don’t need to explain that the answer is no

In many reactions yesterday and today, it is clear that more than a few commentators still operate under an idea of Pope Francis. Under that idea, anyone seeming to disagree with the Pope, anyone emphasising the importance and unchangeability of doctrine for example, is attacking the Holy Father. That is nonsense, of course. The letter, if it exists in the form that was published yesterday, is not an attack or sign of opposition: it is the sharing of concerns and the asking of questions, which is and entirely valid and necessary part of any deliberation, meeting or, yes, Synod. It is not a rebellion or attack.

Cardinal Eijk and the Pope – an explanation

In the style of Jimmy Akin’s X points to know and share, here is my attempt at a clear overview of the facts surrounding a possible papal visit to the Netherlands and Cardinal Eijk’s alleged role in preventing it.

What actually happened?

bishops st. peter's  squareThere are actually two moments in time that we could call the starting point of the current rumours and debate. The first is the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops that took place in the first week of December. The popularity of Pope Francis caused some to seriously consider the possibility of a papal visit to the Netherlands, and among these ‘some’ were bishops. While the possibility was not discussed with the Holy Father during the ad limina, the bishops did promise to discuss it during their plenary meeting in January.

The second moment was earlier this week, when daily newspaper Trouw published an article accusing Cardinal Wim Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht and president of the Bishops’ Conference, of having vetoed a papal visit. He was said to have told the other bishops that he and the Pope had decided it was not going to happen. The bishops soon made it be known that this was not exactly what happened. It was in fact the Pope alone who had to inform Cardinal Eijk that he did not see a chance for a visit to the Netherlands in the near future. Visits to other countries and the reform of the Roman Curia were cited as reasons. Cardinal Eijk later informed those who asked that Pope Francis remained as welcome as ever.

Is this all, then?

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkSadly not. While the Trouw article was picked up by news outlets, both local and abroad, the correction from the bishops was not. Many assumed that Cardinal Eijk was the one who blocked the visit, and even among those who were aware of the correction, there were some who assumed this was damage control and that it really wasn’t the Pope who didn’t  want to come, but Cardinal Eijk coming up with reasons not to host him. I have been coming across plenty of ill feelings towards the cardinal, generally all based on the incorrect reporting in Trouw and other media outlets.

Are there any other sources backing up Cardinal Eijk?

There is one important one: Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the press chief of the Vatican. Dutch journalist Andrea Vreede, who lives and works in Rome, today contacted him to ask if a papal visit to the Netherlands was really not an option, and if the Pope had received an invitation which could then have been blocked by Cardinal Eijk. Fr. Lombardi said that Pope Francis had never accepted an invitation to visit the Netherlands and that there was no basis for a one-day visit on the 31st of May. The silence of the other bishops is also an indicator that things happened as is said. In the past some bishops did not hesitate to disagree with Cardinal Eijk.

What’s the deal with the one-day visit?

PuntHere the person of Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam comes in. While there are no official confirmations of this, it is said that he had scheduled a one-day visit of Pope Francis to Amsterdam. Logistics, finances, security, even a script are all said to have been ready. Bishop Punt, together with his auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks, visited the Pope last September. During the ad limina visit, Bishop Punt said that Pope Francis was interested in visiting the Netherlands. It may be assumed that the Holy Father said so during that earlier visit.

Although there are no solid sources for this, some say that Bishop Punt, once returned home, went about planning said one-day visit, which may have included a visit to Amsterdam’s St. Nicholas Basilica, a charity project in the capital and a prayer service in the Amsterdam Arena football stadium.

And 31 May?

On that day the devotees of Our Lady of All Nations, the controversial name of Our Lady as she is said to have appeared in Amsterdam in the middle of the 20th century, are having their annual day of meeting and prayer. Bishop Punt is a known adherent of this devotion, and has approved it in his capacity as ordinary of the diocese. Some now state that Bishop Punt wanted to combine this event, taking place in the aforementioned Basilica of St. Nicholas, with the papal visit and so promote the devotion worldwide. As before, these are assumptions made by some, and there is no proof that this is actually true.

What’s the status now?

There is a clear split between those who have read and accept the official correction of the bishops and therefore hold that Cardinal Eijk acted perfectly reasonable, and those who are prone to some conspiracy theories in this matter, believing that Cardinal Eijk did veto the visit and acted out of spite, fear or simple lust for power. Some add the Our Lady of All Nations story and hold that Bishop Punt was cut off by the cardinal.

And my opinion?

I am quite sure that things are indeed as the bishops say. There may have been some confusion because of Bishop Punt’s enthusiasm for a visit (who knows, he may well have been thinking about and exploring some options) and Cardinal Eijk’s personality (when he has said something it remains said, and when he maintains he has been clear enough he will not be easily convinced of explaining himself further). Cardinal Eijk will not have been telling the Pope to stay away, but he will have been honest about any reservations he may have had (I explored some possible reservations in my previous post on this topic). Bishop Punt may well be disappointed, as he has indicated, but I have not seen any evidence of a falling out between him and the cardinal. The bishop has also not issued a formal invitation, as we have learned via Fr. Lombardi, but he has probably presented some idea for a visit to the rest of the bishops’ conference. Cardinal Eijk may have taken that suggestion with him to Rome and discussed it with Pope Francis. Whatever the facts, it is the Holy Father who ultimately said that there was no time in the foreseeable future. And there is no reason to assume anything else, really.

Hushing up the cardinals – proof of the big bad Vatican?

o'malley dinardo goergeMuch talk yesterday about the heavy-handed Vatican forbidding the American cardinals from holding daily press briefings to inform people of what goes on at the General Congregations. But, as always, is there any basis about such a reading of the events?

As Fr. James Bradley rightly points out, the highest authority in the Vatican at the moment is the College of Cardinals. No one can bar them from doing anything, apart from standing orders from the former Pope, or themselves. Certainly, within the College there may have been some pressure upon the Americans to stop the briefings, but there is no reason to assume that anyone forced anyone else. In fact, given the situation in which information was apparently leaked to the media, a fairy strict communications shutdown is understandable. Of course, the daily briefings by Fr. Lombardi will continue, but the cardinals will devote themselves to the internal forum, which is of course the most important these days.

We should ask ourselves if we have any real need to know the details of the daily proceedings. Of course it’s interesting, but I don’t think that such a process of electing a new Pope should be sidetracked by too much focus on external communication and media briefings. The outcome is important, and those 115 cardinals (expected to be finally complete today) need our support in prayer and thought, not our need for answers and our thoughts about what they should do and who they should vote for. Leave that to the Holy Spirit.

In these events, the general congregations and the conclave, we must not forget the element of faith. Faith in the Holy Spirit, that He will guide His Church and grant her the shepherd she deserves and needs, and faith in the cardinal electors, that they will decide and vote according to their conscience and open to the whisperings of the Lord.

Photo credit: Cardinals O’Malley, DiNardo and George, Gregorio Borgia/AP

“This day for me is different” – the end of eight years of Benedict

benedict cardinalsOn his first full day as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI offered Mass, read in the books he brought with him and took a walk through the Castel Gandolfo gardens while praying the Rosary. The evening before, which capped an eventful day the likes of which the Church has never seen before, and most likely will not see for a long time, Benedict spent watching the news and reading some of the messages he received. Father Federico Lombardi told the assembled press this in what was the first of daily press briefings during the sede vacante.

Reading this today was actually rather comforting, because yesterday was quite eventful, even for one who watched the main events via the Vatican video player. As unlikely as it may sometimes seem, there was definitely a personal factor; it was less the departure of a high official, and more the passing of a beloved family member. While the morning meeting with the cardinals assembled in Rome (pictured above) was a very affectionate event, with quite a lot of smiles and  laughter (standing out was the joke and the laugh that Cardinal Tagle seemingly shared with the Holy Father), the afternoon was totally different.

The tone was set with the first appearance of the Pope on the screen, bidding his farewells to the vicars general of his diocese, Cardinals Vallini and Comastri. Neither kept a dry eye, and especially touching I found Cardinal Vallini briefly squeezing Archbishop Gänswein’s hand as a sign of support. The latter subsequently had to employ a tissue to dry his eyes as well.

And then, after the fifteen-minute helicopter flight to Castel Gandolfo, there was the epilogue to almost eight years of Benedict XVI, and it was as simple and to the point as the Pope emeritus himself.

benedict castel gandolfo

“Thank you!

Thank you all!

Dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of Creation and your affection that does me much good. Thank you for your friendship, your love, [applause] …

You know that this day for me is different from previous ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church: until eight in the evening I will be still, and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim who begins the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.

But I wish still [applause – thank you!] … but I wish still with my heart, my love, my prayer, my reflection, with all my inner strength, to work for the common good and the good of the Church and of humanity. And I feel very much supported by your affection.

Let’s go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and the world.

Thank you, I give you now [applause] … with all my heart, my blessing.

Thank you, good night! Thank you all!”

And so, a final two-handed wave (not unlike, as some have noted, that first gesture we saw back in April of 2005), and the Pope returned inside. And then, less than three hours later, it was over. The doors closed, the Swiss Guards returned to their barracks, and the sede vacante began.

It was a farewell: we have seen our last of Benedict. But it’s not a farewell: he is still there with us, not in plain sight, but as close as ever in prayer and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. So, while we mourn a loss, we have also gained something. But it will take some getting used too, that much is certain.

Business as usual – Pope Benedict’s last weeks

benedictIn a third press briefing in as many days, Fr. Federico Lombardi shared the schedule of Pope Benedict’s final days as Pope. As indicated earlier it is nothing out of the ordinary (if you can call such a busy schedule normal for a man of almost 86…) and befitting the personality of the Holy Father. His decision to abdicate, momentous as it is, is also an exercise in humility.  And, if anything, Pope Benedict is a humble man, never working for himself, never seeking the spotlight. Reflecting this, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a lovely anecdote:

“I met Joseph Ratzinger once on a visit to Rome. I was walking across St Peter’s Square when I noticed the famous figure of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith heading across the square wearing a cassock, overcoat and simple black beret. I smiled and bid him good morning. He smiled back politely and nodded and went on his way to the office. He always did seem better behind the scenes.

His farewell this week was rather like my meeting with him. A simple man walking across the public square of history–happy to be headed to the privacy of his study–where he has some work to do.”

Anyway, on to the schedule:

ash wednesday st. peter's squareWednesday 13 February, Ash Wednesday: In his last public liturgical celebration, Pope Benedict XVI will offer Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Thousands of people are already queueing on St. Peter’s Square to attend this Mass, as pictured at right.

Thursday 14 February: The Holy Father will meet with priests of the Diocese of Rome.

Friday 15 February: A meeting with President Traian Basescu of Romania, followed by a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit.

Saturday 16 February: Meetings with President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit, and Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy.

Sunday 17 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square, and in the evening he and members of the Curia will start their Lenten retreat. Cardinal Ravasi will lead this retreat, and no activities are planned until the 24th.

Sunday 24 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

Monday 25 February: A meeting with several cardinals.

Wednesday 27 February: Pope Benedict will hold his final general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Thursday 28 February: Following a farewell address to the College of Cardinals, a helicopter will take the Pope to Castel Gandolfo at 5pm. At 8 o’clock in the evening, the See of Peter falls vacant.

Photo credit: [1] l’Osservatore Romano, [2] Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict: “I have felt your prayers”

Today, Pope Benedict spoke to the faithful for the first time since he announced his abdication. At the general audience he was visibly moved by the standing ovation he received from a Paul VI Hall that was completely filled (it fits 7,000 people).

benedict“Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided -” [prolonged applause] “Thank you for your kindness. I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act.

I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfil the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.

I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!”

For the next two weeks, Pope Benedict is still our Pope, and the rest of the general audience was very much as it usually is: catechesis and messages to and from the various groups gathered in the hall. As Fr. Lombardi indicated yesterday, all planned activities will continue until the Holy Father’s last working day. These include ad limina visits from Italian bishops, the general audiences, today’s Ash Wednesday Mass, a meeting with the priests of Rome tomorrow, the Angelus prayer on Sundays and visits from the heads of state of Romania and Guatemala.

Two more weeks of Benedict, and then what?

benedictCome the evening of 28 February, the Church will have to make do without a Supreme Pontiff. For how long, we don’t know, and it is certainly a different situation than the last time this happened.

A pope stepping down, a conclave without mourning a deceased Holy Father, but with the all the chaos, temporary suspensions of functions and preparations to gather all the cardinals and prepare the Sistine Chapel that come with the election of a new pope.

So what can we expect in the coming weeks, which will certainly be interesting, emotional and exciting?

Things will change at the time that Pope Benedict XVI has indicated: 8pm on Thursday 28 February. At that time, he will no longer be pope, and the See of Peter will be officially vacant. Pope Benedict XVI will then no longer be called that, although it remains to be seen how we will refer to him in the future. The former Pope will remove to Castel Gandolfo and, at a later date, he will take up residence in a monastery within the Vatican walls.

A limited set of duties normally held by the Pope, will fall to the College of Cardinals. The heads of the Curial offices will resign as well, although they will be reinstated by the new pope, as is standard. The exceptions are Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as  Camerlengo – he will continue to manage the properties of the Church; Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro as Major Penitentiary; and all Holy See representatives across the world. The vicars-general of the Diocese of Rome, Cardinals Angelo Comastri and Agostino Vallini, will also continue in their pastoral duties.

Papal Conclave-005The major event of the sede vacante will of course be the conclave to elect the new Pope. During today’s press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi said that this will take place in mid-March, and we’ll have a new Pope before Easter. Barring any deaths, 117 cardinal electors will travel to Rome to participate in the conclave.

Several cardinals and other officials will have specific duties in the conclave. The Dean of the College Cardinals, being over 80, will not be present, so his duties will be taken over by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. Also accompanying the cardinals will be Msgr. Guido Marini, the Papal Master of Ceremonies. He will lock the door of the Sistine Chapel, after calling “Extra omnes!”, “Everybody (who is not an elector), out!”. Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary of the College of Cardinals, will also be present. Neither of them will, however, attend the actual voting.

The conclave may take several days and will take place in utter secrecy. Although the electors are not obliged to elect one of their own, they most probably will. On this page I provide a  list of members of the College of Cardinals. The names in bold are those of cardinal electors at this moment. One name will be removed from that list, as Cardinal Lubomyr Husar will reach the age of 80 before the Pope’s retirement. A closer look at the electors and some guesses about the future will follow later.

Photo credit: [1] Visibly aged since his election, Pope Benedict pictured during a visit to a seminary in Rome, last week.