Bishops, Biden, and Beerhalls

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday friends,

If you were hoping for a quiet week in the Church as we saw a new U.S. president sworn in, well... nuts.

The new normal

On Tuesday, JD looked at how the U.S. bishops would adjust to dealing with a new, Catholic, President Joe Biden. He concluded that this probably wouldn’t go well.

It didn’t take long, either. And it’s still going on.

As near everyone knows now, Archbishop Jose Gomez penned a bold statement to kick off the Biden administration’s first day, pledging the bishops would work with Biden on areas of agreement, while announcing “in and out of season” their preeminent concern with ending the genocide of legal abortion.

Dealing with a Catholic president is a novelty for the conference, especially one who publicly and pointedly converted to the proabortion cause during the election.  Which is why Cardinal Blase Cupich’s rebuke of Gomez’ letter is not especially surprising. What is surprising is that the rebuke took place on Twitter.

Bishops will disagree, but watching those disagreements spill off the conference floor and onto Twitter certainly is novel. 

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Something on which they, and we, can all agree, is the need to not only end abortion for future generations, but properly mark the evil it has already visited on our society. Today is a national day of penance for abortion and prayer for the unborn, I invite you to remember that in your prayers.

Something else for your consideration: the always excellent Charles Camosy has an open letter to Pope Francis on the subject.

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I have long thought that it is unhealthy for bishops to pretend to be unified when they are not. 

The more they talk to each other honestly, and in public, the faster they will work towards an actual consensus, or, at the very least, the faster the truth will be made clear.

That said, the emerging majority/minority split among the bishops on how to talk to the White House is going to get awkward, very awkward, for a while. But it does open the door for someone to step into the middle - and I have some thoughts on who that might be.

Meanwhile, the Vatican’s decision to reach into what would seem an obviously domestic matter for the USCCB leadership may be a story worth watching for a while. 

Sooner or later, the U.S. bishops are going to start wondering out loud why they consistently draw swift Roman intervention when trying to, for example, come up with solutions to the sexual abuse crisis or fight against abortion, while the Germans can convene a “binding synod” aimed at upending Church doctrine and discipline on everything from same-sex unions to female ordination.

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If you can’t do the time...

Away from Washington, this week also saw a fairly historic result in the world of Vatican finances. The former head of the IOR, which people continue to refer to as the Vatican Bank, presumably just to annoy me, has been on trial in Vatican City since 2018. 

Yesterday, Angelo Caloia was handed a 9 year jail sentence for money laundering and embezzlement. You heard me. The Vatican is sending an 81 year-old layman to the naughty corner for 8 years and 11 months. 

As a kicker, they also convicted his personal lawyer and his son; they got 8 years, 11 months and 5 years, two months, respectively. All three plan to appeal, of course.

Caloia led the bank for twenty years, until 2009. He, his lawyer, and his son, were convicted of essentially selling off huge chunks of the IOR’s property portfolio to themselves at knockdown prices via a series of offshore shell companies. Huh. Sound familiar?

On that note, I know many of you will be desperate to know how this affects other Vatican financial scandals we have been covering. I plan on doing a quick explainer on this later today, but, since I can sense your breathless anticipation, the short answer is: not directly, but a lot by implication.

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Caloia left the bank in 2009, and much of the reforming work to turn the IOR into something credible began as soon as he walked out the door. 

It wasn’t exactly plain sailing from there but the IOR is now probably the most reputable financial institution the Holy See has.

In recent years, Moneyval, the EU’s financial watchdog, have made it clear to Vatican authorities that they need to actually prosecute and convict financial criminals once they have been discovered. 

That the head of the Vatican City tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, has sent an octogenarian to jail for what could prove to be the rest of his natural life will send a chill down the spine of more than a few people around the Augean stables of the Secretariat of State.

Speaking of the secretariat, prosecutors - the same ones from the Caloia case - also announced this week that they are ready to go to court “imminently” against Cecilia Margona, la femme mystérieuse reportedly employed as a sort of personal spy of the now-unemployed Cardinal Angelo Becciu. She has been indicted for aggravated embezzlement in Vatican City.

After Vatican authorities failed to secure her extradition, no one knows if she will actually turn up for her day in court. A more interesting question: Who else among her alleged “co-conspirators” will end up being charged along with her? 

We don’t know yet, but I have some ideas. If they get an invitation to a Vatican trial, it likely won’t be “attendance optional.”

Last Orders

Indoor fraternization is still frowned upon here in Washington, unless you meet via an app catering to moral deviants. The coronavirus is what it is, and likely will be for sometime. But I tell you this: I miss bars. 

I lived most of my life in London, and a proper city ale house is a thing of beauty. Unpretentious, convivial, and possessed of just enough society to keep you entertained when you want it and to leave you alone when you need it.

Since arriving in Washington, I have found my way to a few of the city's unreconstructed dive bars, which are, indeed, few. Places where they don’t attempt to herd you onto tables and foist a three-courses meal on you, when all you want is four pints worth of impolite company and your foot on the brass rail.

Unfortunately, two of the bars I loved best in this city have now gone out of business, casualties of the long Covid winter. A third, the first one I found, became a hang-out for the kinds of political demonstrators in whose company I do not choose to drink.

I worry these places won’t come back, that by the time we’re allowed to cram back in cheek by jowl along the bar, none will be left. They’ll be replaced, of course, by some ghastly pop up bicycle repair/coffee shop, or an “ironic take” on an Irish pub, probably serving vegan tequila and vintage tattoos.

I am not, as a rule, good at small talk. But there is a freedom in trading beerhall wisdom with a total stranger. Give me enough bourbon and I can chat for hours, provided no one ruins it by actually introducing themselves.

 Something human is closing down along with those places, something honest and unrefined. That makes me sad.

See you next week, and always tip your waitress.

Ed. Condon

editor

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