Sixty years ago today, on Oct. 11, 1962, the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican began in Rome, with an address from Pope St. John XXIII — and I’ll tell you more about it at the end of this newsletter.
For now, let’s get to the news. But first, please let me tell you - this will be a brief Tuesday Pillar Post, as I’m traveling this morning, at the start of a very cool reporting trip.
I look forward to telling you about where I’ve gone, and why, after I’ve actually done the reporting. For now, just know that it’s cool.
But here’s what’s in the news right now.
The Pillar broke the news yesterday morning that the Diocese of Steubenville has begun the process of an extinctive merger with the neighboring Diocese of Columbus — the much larger particular church to Steubenville’s west.
Our sources in Rome and the U.S. had confirmed for us that Steubenville’s Bishop Jeffrey Montforton was planning an all-hands-on-deck meeting yesterday afternoon of priests and staffers, to explain that the financial and personnel situation of the Steubenville diocese made it necessary for the diocese to be merged with Columbus.
Indeed, that meeting took place yesterday afternoon, and the process to merge the dioceses is underway. But before the pope formally approves the merger, the U.S. bishops will have a consultative vote about the prospect of joining the dioceses — that vote is scheduled to take place next month, during the autumn meeting of the USCCB.
This is only the second time in recent memory that a merger of U.S. dioceses has been in the works — but the process is likely to become much more common in the years to come, because of both shifts in the U.S. population, and widespread religious disaffiliation. So it’s worth paying attention to what’s happening in Steubenville — and The Pillar is already at work on more reporting on the prospect of this merger, and its history.
The pope ordered a few months back that all Vatican departments had until September 30 to take their money out of foreign banks, and put it on deposit at a Vatican City bank - the Institute for the Works of Religion.
At the same time, a bank with a long history of work with the Vatican Secretariat of State - Credit Suisse - has come under fire in Switzerland as it posts monumental losses and huge debts. A few years ago, the Secretariat of State had some accounts frozen at Credit Suisse during the Vatican finance investigation - but the Vatican has declined to say whether the money is still there.
Do you remember a few months ago, when we reported about a little group of Catholics in Newfoundland, Canada who came together to buy their parish church, which was on the auction block because of a diocesan bankruptcy?
The parishioners did a lot of fundraising, and won their auction, because they wanted to keep open Holy Rosary Parish in their village, Portugal Cove-St. Philips.
Well, they learned recently that while the parishioners saved the parish church from property developers, the Archdiocese of St. John’s plans to suppress the parish anyway, and its last Mass will be this Sunday.
The archdiocese says it can’t staff the parish, and that the parish can’t afford to pay a pastor. But the parishioners disagree, and they’re appealing the closure. They say their archbishop should have told them he was planning to close the parish before they spent a lot of time and money keeping the church building open.
And they told us they’ll take their case all the way to the Vatican if they need to.
The USCCB announced last week that Bishop Thomas Paprocki is a candidate to chair the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance. Paprocki has been a member of the committee since 2003, and had a turn at the helm as chair once before, from 2008 until 2011.
Bishop Paprocki talked with The Pillar last week about what the committee does, and how it can help bishops to exercise better administrative governance of their dioceses. He also talked about why a bishop’s administrative leadership is part of his spiritual fatherhood:
“The bishop is the shepherd of the flock. So he's the spiritual guide of the entire diocese, and in particular, he is in relationship with his priests.
Just as the priest is a father — we call the priest "father," and he's the spiritual father to his parishioners. The relationship between the bishop and his priests is along that line.
The person who pastors the priests is the bishop; the bishop is a spiritual father to his priests, and should be seen in that role. That's an important way that he should perceive himself, and how the priests should perceive their relationship with the bishop.”
Paprocki also talked about the Church’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, and about the importance of learning to live as Catholics, even with fewer priests:
“I celebrated a few years ago an anniversary for one of our first churches in this diocese —175 years! It was founded before there was even a diocese, and before they had priests assigned. So the faithful built a church - a little chapel - on a stagecoach line. And they were just hoping that when the stagecoach was coming through, maybe there would be a priest aboard, and maybe he would stop for a day or so, to say Mass, and baptize their children, and hear their confessions.
People learned how to maintain the practice of their faith, even if they didn't have a resident priest.
I think that's part of what we can be doing as well.”
Really, this is one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with a bishop in quite a while.
This is, by the way, the first of several interviews we’ve got scheduled with candidates for leadership positions at the USCCB. Stay tuned for more ahead of November’s meeting of the U.S. bishops.
A good death
And here’s another interview you definitely should make time to read.
Stuart Rogerson is a Scottish convert to the faith, a former Presbyterian minister, and a thoughtful disciple of Jesus Christ. He is also dying of oesophageal cancer — and sharing online what it means to prepare for a good death.
He talked with The Pillar’s Luke Coppen about why he became Catholic, why he shares his story, and why he’s not afraid to die.
“I have no advice for others except to encourage them to remember this life is a brief journey, a passing shadow on the world, and to strive to live in the presence of God every minute of the day, no matter how busy, it is to keep in constant contact with Our Lord.”
“I’m not remotely afraid of dying. To die, as St Paul said, is to gain. As I die, I am offering it all to Our Lord, whether it is a good day or one that is filled with sickness, weakness, and pain. I pray it is of use. If I was afraid of dying, it would be to make of my life and faith a lie. Our Lord is with me every step of the way, even when it seems He has gone missing. I don’t doubt that for one minute. This passing shadow of earthly life is as nothing to the reality that will soon be mine.”
Starting Seven is The Pillar’s quick, smart, daily newsroom roundup from Luke Coppen - an internal tool that we’re now making available to you.
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After October 31, Starting Seven will be available only to our paying subscribers, (and to non-paying readers who’ve written to us asking to be included) as a thank you for helping to keep our newsroom going. But for the next three weeks, you can read it and try it out, even if you’re not a paying subscriber.
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The Pillar launched this weekend an entirely new podcast project that you should check out - Sunday School: A Pillar Bible Study is a walk through the Bible with my friend Dr. Scott Powell, a professor at St. John Vianney seminary, formerly of the “Lanky Guys” podcast.
Each season, Scott walks me through a book of the Bible - we started with the Gospel of Mark. And you don’t have to do the readings ahead of time, because The Pillar’s Ed Condon will read them for you.
If you don’t know much about Vatican II, you can read here an explainer we did last year on what the Council was actually all about.
But read some of what Pope St. John XXIII had to say when he kicked off Vatican II:
The great problem confronting the world after almost 2000 years remains unchanged. Christ is ever resplendent as the center of history and of life. Men are either with Him and His Church, and then they enjoy light, goodness, order, and peace. Or else they are without Him, or against Him, and deliberately opposed to His Church, and then they give rise to confusion, to bitterness in human relations, and to the constant danger of fratricidal wars.
Ecumenical Councils, whenever they are assembled, are a solemn celebration of the union of Christ and His Church, and hence lead to the universal radiation of truth, to the proper guidance of individuals in domestic and social life, to the strengthening of spiritual energies for a perennial uplift toward real and everlasting goodness.
The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. That doctrine embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul. And, since he is a pilgrim on this earth, it commands him to tend always toward heaven.
This demonstrates how our mortal life is to be ordered in such a way as to fulfill our duties as citizens of earth and of heaven, and thus to attain the aim of life as established by God. That is, all men, whether taken singly or as united in society, today have the duty of tending ceaselessly during their lifetime toward the attainment of heavenly things and to use, for this purpose only, the earthly goods, the employment of which must not prejudice their eternal happiness.
Of course, a lot of ink has been spilled in the past 60 years on whether Vatican Council II has actually done the things John XXIII hoped it would do. Indeed, the narrative of the Church’s pastoral and intellectual life for these six decades has centered around competing readings of Vatican II, differing senses of what it means, and what it doesn’t — and that continues today.
I’d argue that - whether we realize it or not - we’re also still unpacking the meaning of Vatican Council I, which itself was held 153 years ago. And that’s instructive, I think. All ecumenical councils take time to be wholly and entirely integrated into the Church’s pastoral life, and thought, and lived experience, and the Vatican councils are no exception.
There is often a tumultuous period after an ecumenical council, as there has been since Vatican II, especially when interpretation is shaped by those who were there - a unique experience that, for better or for worse, allows personal participation to become its own kind of hermeneutic of the council’s texts.
It seems to me that Vatican II will be best integrated into the Church’s life when it is read, and taught, and thought about by those who are reading the Council’s with some distance - without the personal experience that shapes interpretation - which allows for a clearer reading in continuity with the full theological and doctrinal vision of the Church. And, as I say, we’re still doing that for a council that happened 15 decades ago.
Now, the interesting thing about Vatican II is that it was meant to speak pastorally to a particular moment in time, and the world changes fast — which means there are beautiful parts of the documents which will endure as important articulations of the faith — on holiness, the Church, missionary activity, the laity, religious life, the priesthood, and episcopate, among other things — and there are parts that are, by design and overt indication, meant to speak to a particular moment.
As is always the case in reading ecclesiastical texts, that reality will become clearer with ongoing reading, prayer, discussion, gratitude to God for the gift of the Second Vatican Council, and — sincerely — prayer for the wisdom to read and understand it well.
May we read and understand it well. May God make us wise.
As I said, I’m on the road today. Be assured of my prayers for you. And please pray for us — we need it.
Yours in Christ,