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A new bishop for Phoenix, consistency with Kavanaugh, and the papal rumors

Happy Friday friends,

Some episcopal news this morning for you:

Today Pope Francis named Bishop John Dolan as the new Bishop of Phoenix; the pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who turned 75 in January.

Bishop John Dolan. Credit: University of San Diego via YouTube.

Dolan has been auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of San Diego since 2017.

It’s obviously the second big San Diego related announcement to come out of Rome in the last few weeks, after the pope nominated Bishop Robert McElroy last month to become a cardinal in August.

I was talking about it this morning with Brendan, who has been doing a lot of work on the size and shape of U.S. dioceses of late. He pointed out to me that Phoenix is growing faster than any of the American cardinalatial sees — including San Diego.

But in Phoenix, Dolan will face a struggle familiar from his ministry in San Diego: the difficulty of finding enough vocations to minister to his flock.

From 2015 to 2019, San Diego ordained an average of 2 priests per year, while Phoenix averaged 2.6. The typical American diocese ordained 2.9 priests per year during that time, so Phoenix and San Diego are both behind the average. But both have sizable Catholic populations, and that’s where the numbers get more revealing.

Over the last five years, Phoenix averaged 0.22 ordinations per 100,000 Catholics, just a third of the national rate of 0.66, and lower than any cardinalate see in the U.S. — except San Diego, which averaged 0.15 ordinations per 100,000 Catholics.

So to serve his growing Catholic population with priests, Bishop Dolan will have some work to do.

Interestingly, the announcement from the Vatican didn’t mention Olmsted’s other role: he has been apostolic administrator of the Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix, which extends through eight western states reaching up to Alaska, .

There are still two Latin U.S. dioceses without a bishop, and eight more led by bishops over the retirement age of 75 — so we should probably expect a steady stream of American episcopal appointments in the weeks and months to come.


Our main story this week is a long - and somewhat disheartening - read on the case of six novices, who were dismissed last June from their religious order, just weeks after reporting that their novice master engaged in harassment and other kinds of misconduct.

The men were dismissed from the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception, after an internal investigation cleared the novice master — but without actually interviewing any of the novices.

The story is a bit of a sense check — if you want to know what’s changed, and what hasn’t, since McCarrick, there’s a lot to think about here. There are questions about what the order did, and why, and about how the Archdiocese of Los Angeles addressed reports it received.

The situation points to pressing questions about how Church policies should classify and address inappropriate clerical conduct toward vulnerable adults, including men in religious or priestly formation.

And there are some concrete questions about what the archdiocese and the order will do next.

It’s a long read, but there’s a lot to the story. You can read the whole thing here.

Nearly a year on from its promulgation, Traditionis custodes - Pope Francis’ motu proprio restricting the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite - remains an issue of controversy in a number of U.S. dioceses.

Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, for example, several senior priests have told us that Cardinal Wilton Gregory approved a plan weeks ago that would effectively end the celebration of the Extraordinary Form on parish or archdiocesan properties, and limit it to a weekly Mass at a Franciscan monastery. 

But despite apparently being a done deal, the plan has been sitting in a drawer. Why? Part of the reason seems to be that the cardinal wanted to wait until the archdiocese’s synodal listening sessions concluded before he promulgated the text, so he could hear from local Catholics and from his own clergy.

By many accounts, what Gregory has heard is that the EF communities in the archdiocese are relatively small but, at least in some places, are crucial to the viability of the parishes they call home.

But if the feedback from the clergy and faithful points one way, the Vatican — especially through the responsa issued by the Dicastery for Divine Worship last year — is emphatically pointing in the other direction, insisting on an implementation plan that leaves little room, if any, for local bishops to accommodate the needs of their flock as they see them.

The situation, as one priest put it, backs Cardinal Gregory into something of a corner: He wants both to implement the pope’s plan as the Vatican has interpreted it, and to listen to what his priests and people are telling him. And those things might be at odds with each other.

So what’s the answer? You can read my analysis here.

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When Jane’s daughter, Emmi, received a prenatal diagnosis of anencephaly – a fatal condition in which parts of the brain and skull fail to develop – during a 15-week ultrasound in March 2021, the experience was traumatic.

“I was alone and sitting with the medical team,” Jane told Kathryn Anne Casey, writing for The Pillar this week. “They confirmed that baby Emmi had anencephaly and said that she would not survive after birth - if she even made it that far.”

“It was as if a part of me had died right then and there,” she said. “The rest of that day, needless to say, was full of crying and weeping. It was the most painful thing my heart had ever felt.”

But facing that cross, Jane met a ministry called Be Not Afraid, which aims to accompany parents who have received a very difficult prenatal diagnosis.

Read here about Be Not Afraid. It’s a small ministry with a powerful story.

This Pillar Post is brought to you by St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.
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Consistency matters

You have probably seen headlines about a California man who was arrested Wednesday, armed and kitted out for a plan to break into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house and kill him. 

I assume the story led on Fox News and similar stations for some time, though I can’t be sure, since I would rather eat my television than watch cable news. But you probably did not read about it in the New York Times, where the story was back on page 20, or in the Washington Post, where it was filed under “Local Crime and Public Safety” — next to a report about a motoring accident.

I confess I was surprised that what appears to have been a fairly credible attempt on the life of this particular Supreme Court justice wasn’t bigger news for the country’s self-styled papers of record, especially given their previously dedicated coverage of all things Kavanaugh. 

When he was arrested, Nicholas John Roske apparently told law enforcement that he was upset about the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and believed killing the justice in a murder-suicide would “give his life a purpose”. 

Roske’s plan was presumably made more workable because the home addresses of several justices were circulated by Ruth Sent Us, a group coordinating protests in defense of abortion, at the judges’ homes and at Catholic churches. 

Ruth Sent Us has since emphasized that they are “committed to non-violence” and lamented that “fundamentalists” would rather talk about how circulating Kavanaugh’s home address might have contributed to the attempt on his life, “rather than [talk about] the daily mass-murders in America.”

I found this response… interesting.

I cannot be sure, but I believe that Ruth Sent Us means by the term “fundamentalists” people who want to end legal protection for abortion.

If so, those “fundamentalists” whom I know - myself included - would like to see an end to mass-murders in this country, including both those committed by gun violence and the ones perpetrated daily in abortion clinics. Most such people would be glad to talk about that.

Consistency matters.

So I was also surprised that the group appeared to distance itself from the attempt on Kavanaugh’s life, albeit obliquely. Surely the premise of legal abortion on demand is that there is a right, even a compelling necessity at times, to end an innocent human life for a supposedly “greater” benefit? 

I would have thought that, for groups committed to killing on demand in the name of “choice,” the picking off individual justices in their family homes to preserve Roe as the law of the land could be, like abortion itself, seen as a practical necessity of difficult circumstances.

Maybe they wouldn’t go as far as to print “Shout Your Assassination” t-shirts, but I’d have expected at least some kind of through-line of values, given their belief that getting the life you want sometimes requires taking someone else’s.

On the other hand, of course, I should note that after the attempt on Kavanaugh’s life, Ruth Sent Us made a renewed call to target the home of Justice Amy Coney Barrett— details provided, of course — which they did yesterday. 

Like I said, consistency matters. They may not wear it on a t-shirt, but these people are clear about what they believe in, and what they want. Remember that.


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If the point of abortion is the taking of life, and at the basic physical level it is, the meaning of being “pro-life” must mean the fostering, protection, and service of all lives. 

The most malicious, and manifestly false, accusation of the pro-abortion industry is that pro-life advocates care not a straw for mothers (or their children) beyond denying them access to abortion. The evidence to the contrary is all around, but woefully under reported.

This week, Charlie Camosy talked to Christopher Bell, the co-founder of Good Counsel Homes, which welcome in homeless and expectant mothers from the worst of circumstances.

Their support goes far beyond helping them bring their children to term — many of their mothers, and their children, live in Good Counsel homes for a year or more. 

The numbers speak for themselves: 8,000 women and children spending some 775,000 nights under their roofs, with 1,265 new babies born in their homes. Since 2018, more than half of the mothers have achieved a new educational qualification during their stay and nearly 60% have found employment.

That is caring for the whole of life. Read all about it here.

As a final note, I want to talk about the rumors that Pope Francis is about to retire. 

This talk seems to have started with the news that the pope will go to L'Aquila to open the local Jubilee of Forgiveness, which dates back some seven centuries. 

The papal visit is scheduled for August 28, the day after he will create 21 new cardinals, 16 of them voting age, and the day before he will start a two day session with the college on the new apostolic constitution Praedicate evangelium.

The L'Aquila jubilee was begun by Pope Celestine V, who is buried there. He was before Benedict XVI the last pope in history to resign, and Benedict visited his tomb in 2009, leaving his pallium behind.

As a result of this planned trip, a lot of people have been pulling me aside, emailing me, DMing me, and otherwise asking if I think Francis is about to quit.

In a word: No.

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No, I don’t think Pope Francis is about to resign, any more than I thought he was about to resign this time last year when similar rumors were going around. The visit to L'Aquila is interesting, but I hardly think telling. 

I tend to pay more attention to the papal trips further afield.

The Vatican announced this morning that Francis is delaying a planned July trip to South Sudan and Congo on the advice of his doctors — his knee needs more rehab, it seems.

When the doctors start vetoing papal trips, that is worth noting. But I wouldn’t read too much into what is, so far, a delay, not a cancellation. He’s still booked to head to Canada, and popes who plan to quit in August don’t tend to announce they want to go to Kazakhstan in September.

All the usual caveats about the precariousness of any octogenarian’s health to one side, for my money, Francis doesn’t strike me as the resigning type.

If he does make that same gesture that Benedict did at the old pope’s tomb - leaving his pallium behind - I suspect he’d be doing it at least partly out of a sense of mischief-making, a troll of the annual summer press obsession with the idea of another papal resignation.

I certainly would.

Anyway, don’t believe rumors.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

This Pillar Post is brought to you by St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.
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Audit one course for free ($355 value) on topics like "Minding the Cave: The Call to Truth & Goodness in Plato's Republic;" and "The Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell." Why is this free? We want more people to benefit from our quality courses. See full list of courses here.

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