This is The Tuesday Pillar Post.
If you’re reading this on Tuesday morning, I am right now en route to Bismarck, North Dakota, where I’m scheduled to give a lecture tomorrow at the University of Mary.
I’ve wanted to visit the University of Mary for a while, and I’ve been looking forward to this trip.
But, well, Tuesday’s predicted low temperature in Bismarck is -7°.
On Wednesday, when I’ll give the lecture, the predicted high temperature is 1°
One degree. If you’re keeping score at home, that is really, really cold.
I’ll let you know if I make it. And, readers, if you want me to give a lecture at your warm-weather university, chancery, or local soapbox, just let me know.
Anyhow, we’ve got a lot of news to tell you about, so let’s get to it.
More than 100,000 Russian troops are amassed along Russian border with Ukraine, in what could be a precursor to another invasion of Ukraine, after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and conflict in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region.
The U.K. has sent Ukraine anti-tank weapons. Canada has sent special forces to Kyiv. Russian trains continue to move tanks and missiles to the border, and a round of armed conflict seems nearly inevitable.
But in the U.S., a conflict between Ukraine and Russia seems very far away, and somewhat complex — and for that reason, it has not attracted the attention of many Americans. And most of us don’t appreciate the ongoing humanitarian situation for Ukrainian nationals, especially the 1.5 million internally displaced people in the country.
To make sense of it all, we had a fascinating and important this week with Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparch of Philadelphia.
The archbishop explained the conflict, the national condition, and the mission of the Church in Ukraine:
I know one bishop who has conducted 100 funerals of Ukrainian soldiers. And if you think of the days of grief, of counseling. He’s spent years immersed in the funerals of young men and women. And the entire society is shaken, and in some ways deeply wounded — but by now, also numbed, because it just is there. Some observers who come to Ukraine are surprised that the whole country isn't panicked. But the people are hardened.
[Hope] is a sense of awareness that our Lord is there. Our Lord, who is born into Bethlehem, who then is besieged by a murderer, and our Lord who becomes a refugee. Our Lord, who is homeless, our Lord who ultimately is rejected, who is subjected to misinformation, propaganda, lies, and in the end, crucified.
Gudziak, who was born in the United States but spent considerable time living in Ukraine and Paris, is one of the more interesting members of the U.S. episcopate. Read this interview — Don’t miss what he has to say.
Back in 2018, New Jersey’s attorney general launched an investigation into the possibility of criminal clerical sexual abuse or cover-up in the state’s Catholic dioceses, two of which were in the past led by the disgraced former cardinal Ted McCarrick.
In 2019, Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin was asked by reporters (well, by me, to be specific), whether he planned to release McCarrick’s financial records, which would point to the former cardinal’s network of friends, and to his habit of writing large checks to influential Churchmen. Those records might show whether other bishops or Vatican officials were induced or compelled to look the other way in the face of McCarrick’s misdeeds.
Cardinal Tobin said he couldn’t release the records because of the attorney general’s investigation — though he didn’t say what law or directive actually prevented him from releasing them.
Well, now, in 2022, Gov. Phil Murphy is getting ready to appoint a new attorney general for the state — and the long investigation might soon come to an end. Which means Tobin could soon release the records, right? Well, theoretically, at least.
We reported on the whole situation on Friday.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has become a focal point in the U.S. implementation of restrictions on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass — first the restrictions issued by Pope Francis back in July, and then a second set, issued in December, by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship.
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich has issued his own restrictive policies, in response to the Vatican norms, and they’ve gotten a lot of feedback. I wrote a few weeks ago that by going further than either set of Vatican policies — by, for example, prohibiting the ad orientem posture at the Mass — Cupich would be enlisting opposition to his norms from people who don’t even offer or attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
Well, that’s happened. A Chicago pastor last week posted a letter online opposing strenuously the cardinal’s prohibition of the ad orientem posture in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. After a few days, he took the letter down, and then, yesterday, after a meeting at the archdiocesan chancery, announced he’ll be going on a ten day retreat to “reflect on my priesthood.”
My guess is that retreat wasn’t entirely voluntarily.
It is rare that a pastor would post online a blistering criticism of his bishop and find little repercussion. Of course, for some, this priest is about to be cast as a hero, and for others, a villain - depicted as a symbol of “the problem.”
There will be lots of continued debate over the politics of all this - more debate over the politics than over the actual liturgical theology, I’d reckon.
In the meantime, it’s worth considering all this from a spiritual perspective. The Mass is the source and summit of the faith. It is the locus of Christian unity and the focal point of divine intimacy. It is little wonder that we become so divided over something so important — but it is deeply lamentable.
Read the latest from Chicago, right here.
It’s been some hard days, Knights
The Pillar reported Friday that the Vatican has drafted a new constitution for the Order of Malta, which is a religious order, sovereign entity in international law, and global humanitarian and aid agency. The new draft constitution, were it approved, would undermine, and possibly end, the long-standing international sovereignty of the Order of Malta, including its ability to issue passports, establish diplomatic relations, and participate in the United Nations.
You can read The Pillar’s exclusive report on the draft constitution here.
Yesterday, The Pillar reported that Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, the special delegate of Pope Francis to the Order of Malta, wrote to national leaders of the order to emphasize to them that the provisional and draft constitution is, indeed, provisional, and a draft. The cardinal also complained that someone had leaked the draft constitution; he blamed the order’s German leadership.
You may well be the type to think that a complicated soap opera involving the Vatican, international law, and a 900-year-old order of “knights” is a bit…much to give close attention. And, well, I hear you. This issue of sovereignty, though, is the kind of thing that could actually matter.
The Order of Malta is recognized in international law as a non-territorial sovereign entity — basically, a thing which gets to act like a country, with all the other countries, even while it doesn’t really have any land (except possibly two buildings in Rome.)
There are not a lot of non-territorial sovereign entities hanging around. In fact, at present, there is only one other non-territorial sovereign entity in international law: the Holy See. (Technically, as a matter of law, the Vatican City State is a kind of vassal state of the non-territorial Holy See.)
So there are these two non-territorial sovereign entities: the Order of Malta and the Holy See. Imagine the sovereign status of the Order of Malta goes away — the Holy See would be left all alone in a unique legal category. And sitting there all alone, it would be easier for the states critical of the Holy See’s sovereign status to call for an end to that, too.
It might sound a bit conspiratorial, but in international law, everything is pretty flimsy and ad hoc, including the independent and nearly unique legal status of the Holy See. It would not take much to see that come to an end.
Why does it matter? Who cares if the Holy See has a kind of diplomatic and sovereign status in international law? Wouldn’t it be better for the pope to focus just on the spiritual leadership of the Church, without all this international law stuff in the way? It’s not like St. Peter had diplomatic relations with other countries, right?
Well, sure. He didn’t. But in a modern context, the sovereign status of the Holy See affords a significant legal protection to the pope: head-of-state immunity.
Imagine a universe where the pope, lacking head-of-state immunity, can be hauled into court in all kinds of litigation and criminal charges around the globe. It would be awfully difficult to be the bishop of Rome and also be involved in lawsuits or trials of various kinds, and all the time.
Now, it is possible that some readers might look at the choices of the Holy See on issues related to clerical sexual abuse or financial misconduct, and conclude head-of-state immunity is not actually doing the Church any favors. That’s certainly a plausible position. But, suffice it to say, without it, a lot would change about the governance and structures of the Church — and not necessarily for the better.
Odds and ends
January 10 was, in Kazakhstan, the National Day of Mourning for the hundreds, or thousands, of people who have died in recent weeks in Kazakhstan, where protests against the country’s government saw an airport taken over, city halls set ablaze, and, eventually, intervention from Russia’s military forces.
Protestors called for lower fuel prices, for wage equity, and for democratic election of regional leaders, which the government has opposed.
Democracy protests in Kazakhstan have Russia’s Vladimir Putin concerned, as he watches Russia’s oligarchic influence slip in Belarus and Kazakhstan, just as he also faces troubles at home, and prepares for the prospect of invading Ukraine.
So there’s a lot going on Kazakhstan.
Which is why it surprised me that on January 10, the National Day of Mourning, a Kazakh bishop, the auxiliary of Astana, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, published an essay on an American website which urged the pope to “rescind” his restrictions on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
The Vatican has warned Bishop Schneider personally about traveling outside of his diocese too much, rather than focusing on the local needs of the local Church.
And the pope has charged in the past that there is a group of Churchmen so focused on liturgical theology that they see little else - and, in fact, he has cautioned often against that tendency.
So it does not seem likely that issuing a missive on the local day of mourning - a missive focused on criticizing the pope’s liturgical project - is going to overcome the criticisms which Schneider has faced, or do much to give his opinion a hearing in the Vatican, if that was his aim with the essay. One also wonders what the faithful of his diocese are supposed to have made of it all.
If you haven’t read it yet, check out the story of how Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker led hostages to safety during an 11-hour ordeal at Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, Texas. The rabbi’s cool head and courage saved lives, including his own. This story explains the training that many rabbis undergo to prepare for the prospect of anti-Semitic violence at their synagogues.
My neighborhood is overpopulated with rabbits, and for years I’ve wondered why a den of foxes doesn’t move in to enjoy the prospect of a bunny buffet. I guess some foxes got the message, because a family of foxes has taken up residence in a den somewhere near our house — we’ve enjoyed watching them in the dawn and dusk hours as they stalk around suburbia.
If you don’t have foxes near your house, here’s a bunch of fox cubs and their parents living in a backyard den. My guess is that if you start watching, you’ll keep it on until the end. Because, well, those little foxes are cute:
If you’re headed to the March for Life this week, be assured of our prayers. It’s my personal conviction that the most lasting impact of the March for Life is a reminder to young people that they’re not the only ones with their pro-life convictions, and that we have an obligation every day of the year to proclaim, and also to live, the Gospel of Life.
In 1993, at World Youth Day in Denver, Pope St. John Paul II told young Americans this:
At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation…The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love. Now more than ever, in a world that is often without light and without the courage of noble ideals, people need the fresh, vital spirituality of the Gospel.
What John Paul II said then is no less true now, and, indeed, it may well be more true.
May the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of our society. May it transform our hearts, and the structures of our society. May we live in a civilization of true justice and love.
Please be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us. We need it.
And pray for a warm snap in Bismarck.
Yours in Christ,