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Get your popcorn ready: Pope St. Hyginus, the Windy City, and more

Hey everybody,

Today is January 11, and the feast of Pope St. Hyginus. Sort of.

Pope Hyginus was Bishop of Rome from 137 until 142 AD. It is sometimes said that he died a martyr, but it’s pretty hard to verify that.

What is known, though, is that Pope Hyginus battled the Gnostic heresy, decreed that churches had to be consecrated before Mass could be celebrated inside them, and established the practice of baptismal sponsors for the baptism of infants — Pope Hyginus basically came up with the idea of godparents.

Pretty cool, eh?

Pope Hyginus in St Paul.gif
Pope St. Hyginus. Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Public domain.

The sainted pope’s feast day is no longer celebrated in the liturgical calendar, which is why I said that today is only sort of his feast. But he is nonetheless able to intercede for us — and for our godparents.

The news

We reported last week that the government of India had blocked the Missionaries of Charity from receiving the foreign funds which allow the order to administer hospices, clinics, orphanages, and kitchens for the poor across India.

Well, after a fair amount of pushback, the Indian government has given the Missionaries of Charity a new foreign funding license, which will permit the order to receive foreign fund transfers until 2026.

Good news for the Missionaries of Charity, to be sure. But we still don’t know exactly why the Missionaries of Charity lost the funding license to being with. And the licensure boondoggle points to the alarming treatment of Christians and other religious minorities amid the Hindu nationalist political and cultural agenda proffered by the supporters of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Read all about what’s going on India, and how it might have affected the Missionaries of Charity.

After weeks of rumors, Pope Francis on Monday reassigned Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, now the former secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Numerous Italian blogs have speculated that Morandi was reassigned after he complained to the pope about Traditionis custodes, the pope’s restriction on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass — that speculation has been picked up and reported nearly as fact by much of the Catholic press.

But it might not really be the story.

Vatican sources who know Morandi well have told The Pillar that the archbishop is “not the sort of person who makes himself a career martyr,” and that “the idea that he would go see the pope to protest what another department is doing is nonsensical.”

So what is going on? Well, whatever he thinks of Traditionis custodes, it does seem that Morandi is being moved to diocesan leadership to make some room at the CDF, and that a longtime former CDF staffer, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, may well be appointed secretary - and eventually prefect. And even if there was no dramatic meeting between Morandi and the pontiff, the move likely does have a doctrinal element.

The Maltese Scicluna is known to be a close collaborator of Pope Francis — his reading of Amoris laetitia was said to lend to the pope’s intentions in that document some key support among the bishops who look to Scicluna for leadership. On the other hand, the archbishop has also been long regarded as an expert in Vatican procedures for addressing clerical sexual abuse cases, which are handled in the CDF.

In short, we’re seeing the beginnings of a shakeup at the CDF. Read all about it.

Pope Francis last week got a lot of social media traffic, as video of a circus performance at a papal audience seemed to be shared everywhere.

If you go to Rome regularly, you might notice that it seems like there are small circus troupes performing at the Vatican fairly often. It’s kind of unusual, at least to an American eye.

At The Pillar, we found ourselves wondering why the circus comes to town so much. So we dug into a little bit. And actually, the history - and pastoral theology - behind those papal big top performances is pretty interesting.

So, Ladies and gentlemen, Boys and girls, Children of all ages — give this a read.


A subscription to The Pillar is only 5 bucks a month. That’s less than a cotton candy at a Vatican circus performance.


Synodality in the Windy City

You might have seen a video floating around this week in which Cardinal Blase Cupich is booed while speaking Saturday at the Chicago March for Life.  (Fast forward to about 45 minutes in to see the cardinal’s remarks.)

By my take, Cupich is booed twice. The first time is when the cardinal — mask-clad, though outside and alone at the podium — says that mask-wearing is pro-life, and is a part of “promoting life.”

When the jeers start, Cupich says that some in the crowd “don’t respect the unborn,” and, waving his hand, he asks them to let him speak.

Cardinal Blase Cupich speaks Jan. 8 at the Chicago March for Life. Credit: spirit juice/facebook.

Just a few minutes later, the boos start up again, when Cupich says that treating any person’s life - the unborn, the immigrant, the person living in poverty, etc - “as though human life is disposable sends a message that every human life is meaningless.

Among the shouts from the crowd are “tell Joe Biden,” and “tell it to the USCCB.”

Eventually, Cupich is compelled to address again the growing chorus of boos, saying that “these people won’t let me talk because they’re not here to respect the unborn; they’re not here to respect you.”

The cardinal is booed until his remarks conclude, at which point the critical voices are sustained longer and louder than the applause.

It seems to me that what happened to Cupich at the March for Life is a sign of where things stand in the Church.

I’ve hung around pro-lifers for a long time. And among long-time pro-lifers is a rather significant population of people whose default position is frustration with their bishops for not doing enough — as the pro-lifers see it — for the unborn. It is not uncommon to find a pious older couple who pray at the abortion clinic each week, and who will quietly say how discouraging it can be that their bishop rarely joins them.

I’ve usually found that when a bishop attends an event like the March for Life, he’s given the benefit of the doubt. His people are usually willing to say “well, at least it’s good that he came, and hopefully he’ll do more next year…”

But not so this year, and not so with Cardinal Cupich.

Last week, I wrote about the fracturing of ecclesial culture in the United States. That fracturing has been accompanied by a growing frustration among many practicing Catholics with their bishops — a growing impatience with aspects of the Church’s hierarchical constitution.

Now, to be sure, that frustration is not a universal position — The Pillar’s 2021 survey on religious attitudes and practices found that most Mass-going Catholics say they trust their bishops. But it was already clear that the 2018 sexual abuse scandals have eroded that trust. And the jeers shouted at Cupich convey that last year’s debacle over “Eucharistic coherence,” — and a perceived hesitancy of many bishops to speak prophetically about life — has compounded the frustration.

It would be easy for Cupich to write off the critics as a few malcontents. He was not booed by the entire crowd, after all. But what occurred to me is that no one seems to have stepped in, either. No one in the crowd urged the critics to let the cardinal speak, no one quietly approached them and told them to tone it down. And the boos continued after the cardinal leaves the stage, and after the applause had ended.

Still, Cupich might decide that the people booing him are just a marginal group of the disaffected — people unduly influenced by the online cottage industry of Catholic-themed provocateurs.

That might well be true. But if it is, the voices of such folks are growing louder. And they are spilling out of online forums, and into real-life public events.

Clearly, the folks who booed Cupich want to be heard, even if they might have gone about things differently.

The marginal and the disaffected, by the way, are the people the Church says she’s aiming to hear during the synod on synodality. The Church says they might even have wisdom that has gone unappreciated.

I have been bullish about the prospects of the synod on synodality at the local level; I’ve said it gives bishops a chance to understand what’s important to their people, and to think carefully about how better to engage pastorally and evangelically with them. At least some local Catholics in Chicago seem to have gotten started on expressing their viewpoints early.

That puts bishops like Cupich in an interesting position.

If bishops find a way to listen to such folks, in a better forum than the March for Life, they might find some mutual benefit to that exercise. The folks themselves might have something to say. And the conversation might foster the kind of sincere ecclesial communion the cardinal says he’s trying to build in his archdiocese.

That might sound implausible, but the synodality idea is premised on the notion that the Holy Spirit accomplishes implausible things.

On the other hand, if they’re not heard, the siren songs of anti-institutional voices will seem all the more attractive to the people who jeered the cardinal. And the rifts in the Church will likely grow wider.

In short, the entire situation is a kind of test case for the notion of synodality: Might it actually work? Might the Holy Spirit actually use it to transform ecclesial relationships? Or when the rubber meets the road, is it just a set of buzzwords with a pre-determined outcome?

I suppose we’ll find out.

Some cool stuff

A few weeks ago, I got an email from someone who told me that because of The Pillar Podcast, he’d learned more about Catholicism, begun RCIA, and was planning to enter the Church at Easter.

Our goals at The Pillar are to help provide a durable model of accountability in the Church’s life, to provide clarity for readers on what’s happening in the Church, and to report the news as well, and as clearly, as we can. It came us a surprise to us that our work might also play such an immediate role in someone’s conversion. But it’s not just our work. It’s the Lord’s, of course. And if you’re a subscriber to The Pillar, well, you had a hand in that too.

I’m grateful to see the Lord work in that way, and grateful that he has worked through all of us. Thank you.

Speaking of The Pillar Podcast, in last week’s episode, Ed and I discussed the Second Vatican Council, its interpretation, and why it seems to take so long to “implement” an ecumenical council anyway. Give it a listen.

Our contributing editor Brendan Hodge is hard at work on some interesting statistical analysis we aim to bring you soon. In the meantime, if you’re keen to read more from Brendan, check out his novel, published in 2020.

As Brendan put it: “It has pricing! It has manufacturing in China! It has all the things you love from a Brendan Hodge article, wrapped up in the story of two Catholic sisters living in the Bay Area.”

Obviously, that’s not to be missed.

This is a short newsletter, and I apologize that.

But I do have something I am very glad to share with you — sort of. This is the trailer for a movie I never would have imagined might actually get made: “Divine Decision” is an apparently intense courtroom drama about…the annulment process?

That’s right folks. The wait is almost over.

And, well, the trailer is everything you’d hope for:

Now, as a canon lawyer, I can tell you about a million things that aren’t…quite right about, well, any of that. This is the kind of movie that would require considerable suspension of professional disbelief to enjoy. But I enjoy low-budget religiously themed courtroom thrillers as much as the much as the next guy. So let’s just say I’d like to see a whole lot more.

The trailer ends with a cliffhanger line, from one of the tribunal’s judges: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and of us…”

We’ll have to see the movie to learn what got decided. The trailer says the film was supposed to be released in summer 2021, but the movie’s website says that both “Divine Decision,” and its sequel, “Divine Decision: Double Down” will be released in “Winter 2022.”

Get your popcorn ready.

In the meantime, friends, please be assured of our prayers, and please continue to pray for us. We need it.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
editor-in-chief
The Pillar

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