Happy Friday friends,
Let’s get to the news:
A policy document issued by the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, on the pastoral care of people who identify as gay or transgender, has received a lot of attention in recent weeks — and more than a little criticism, especially from prominent LGBT campaigners like Fr. James Martin, SJ.
In light of all that, it’s reasonable to ask: Why does a diocese have to make its own policies on questions as thorny and controversial as these? These issues are by no means exclusive to, or even especially synonymous with, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, after all.
Why haven’t bigger-picture bodies, like the U.S. bishops’ conference or the Holy See, already issued their own guidance on some of these questions?
Well, here’s the news:
It turns out that back in 2018, both the USCCB and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had actually drafted guidelines on the pastoral care of people who identify as transgender, including instructions on how to incorporate them into the sacramental life of the Church.
Both seem to have ended up sitting in the backs of drawers for the last several years.
USCCB staffers familiar with the project have told us the conference had worked hard on a document but that Rome had, more than once, spiked it in favor of a forthcoming CDF text— one which was passed around to senior Vatican officials in 2018 but never actually seems to have been issued.
We got hold of a copy of the CDF’s draft text. It makes for interesting reading.
It’s clear that many of the issues addressed by the Marquette guidelines have already been the subject of careful reflection by Rome’s doctrinal department, which sometimes came to different conclusions. But that brings us no closer to understanding why nothing formal has been issued by the CDF, and why that forestalled the USCCB from doing anything themselves.
One possible answer is timing. These documents seem to have been in quiet circulation in late 2018, right at the peak of the McCarrick scandal. It’s perhaps understandable if that wasn’t considered the best moment to wade into highly sensitive pastoral issues.
More than three years on, those issues haven’t gone away. Unless Rome would prefer to see more bishops coming up with their own answers to these questions, with all the potential for confusion that might entail, the Vatican might need to move the finalization of its document back up the to-do list.
All you winds, bless the Lord
In his newsletter on Tuesday, JD wrote about an interview we had with the Bishop of Owensboro, Kentucky, following the devastating tornado that ripped across parts of that state and others. Many, many people in that area are still struggling to recover, and have been left without homes in the weeks before Christmas.
The weather has been a bit much in Denver, too, this week. As I write this on Thursday, JD has been without power for nearly two days, and the utility company is still assuring him that electricity will be restored by 3pm yesterday.
This is by way of saying: If you’ve noticed our coverage has been a little more focused on Vatican finances this week than usual, you can blame the weather for leaving me with a bit of extra time alone at the controls. I promise I won’t go on about it anymore here.
OK, that’s it, I promise. Moving on.
In this week’s installment of his “Interesting conversations with interesting people,” our own Charlie Camosy looks past the recent sound and fury surrounding the Supreme Court’s hearing of the case Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization to talk about life beyond Roe — whatever the judges might decide — and what the pro-life movement’s priorities should be.
He sat down with Patrick Brown from the EPPC and Katherine Lopez of the National Review Institute, to talk about political polarization, policy priorities, and how to drive down the demand for abortion in the first place.
Here’s one highlight:
“Certain strains on the right are interested in more of a cultural conservatism than a social one, with abortion and life issues being put on the back burner in favor of attacks on critical race theory or ‘owning the libs.’ And there will always be a form of limited-government skepticism towards any proposal that goes beyond tax cuts that the right will have to negotiate.
But the recognition that families are not immune to economic pressures, and that many seek abortion out of a sense of being trapped and having no other options, is helping some on the pro-family right re-consider their past opposition to certain approaches to family policy.”
Singing His praises
Here’s one bit of business the U.S. bishops’ conducted last month that might have passed you by: they voted to adopt a new translation of the liturgical text for “Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Outside Mass” — which includes the Church’s norms for Eucharistic adoration.
The new version includes some things which are probably familiar to American Catholics in the habit of attending Eucharistic exposition and benediction, like the recitation of the Divine Praises and the Tantum ergo, but which haven’t actually appeared previously in the liturgical texts themselves.
These prayers and their place in Eucharistic adoration are, the bishops decided, an American tradition which merits formal recognition and normalization. We talked with Fr. Dustin Dought, associate director of the USCCB’s secretariat for divine worship, to spell out what it’s all about.
“It really just provides a way for folks in the dioceses of the United States to worship in common,” he told us.
“We want to sort of get this custom into some shape, so that when folks go from parish to parish or from diocese to diocese, there’s not a radical pendulum swing back and forth.”
Massaging the details
So, a strange thing has happened in the ongoing fallout of the “resignation” of Paris’ former Archbishop Michel Aupetit.
The pope decided to accept his offer to step down two weeks ago, following an article in a French magazine which, inter alia, alleged an inappropriate relationship with a woman nearly a decade ago, before he was a bishop. Aupetit vociferously denied any impropriety, but said he was happy to let the pope determine his future in or out of office, and Francis opted to accept his resignation.
As I wrote at the time, it seemed likely that the decision had more to do with allegations about the archbishop’s style of governance than an ill-defined, second-or-third-hand allegation involving a woman years before he came to lead the archdiocese.
Then Pope Francis took questions about the story during his flight home from Greece last week, and referenced “massages” supposedly given by Aupetit to his secretary, and things got weird.
The substance of the allegation about la femme d’Aupetit first published in Le Point had nothing to do with the archbishop’s poor secretary, beyond anonymous claims by some to have seen an email allegedly sent to her by mistake.
There was initial speculation that Francis meant “messages” rather than massages, and then an official Vatican transcript of the exchange simply chose to delete any reference to the secretary at all — despite everyone in the papal press corps having heard it and reported it.
In an interview with Le Parisien, Aupetit had to clarify that Francis seemed to have “mixed up elements of the story” of his own scandal. While he’d once given a back rub to a woman having back problems — “I am a doctor,” he pointed out — “my poor secretary has nothing to do with this. I know her husband and family well. I baptized her grandchildren.”
Some members of the Vatican commentariat pointed to the whole mess as a lesson in cack-handed comms management from the Holy See’s press office. The pope got something wrong, they said, and the correction should have been straightforward and publicly noted to avoid further confusion. Sure, I would agree. But that argument seems, to me anyway, to be missing a bigger point here.
Pope Francis made his comments during a press conference on Dec. 6, barely four days after accepting the resignation of one of the most senior Churchmen in Europe in the midst of a very public media scandal. Yet the pope seems to have been unclear about what Aupetit did or didn’t do, and with whom he is meant to have done or not done it.
It’s possible Francis just misspoke, and the Vatican didn’t clarify because they don’t do that. But it’s hard to escape at the least the possibility that Francis decided to accept Aupetit’s resignation without giving the details of the case his full attention — which is probably the least the archbishop or the Catholics of Paris would have expected, given the circumstances.
It’s equally possible that Francis wasn’t totally seized of the details because he was acting on the best advice of his advisors in the Congregation for Bishops, with whom Aupetit had also been in contact about his situation.
But if the pope is going to lean so heavily on the advice of his counselors that he’s not taking in the details of high profile cases, that’s probably something bishops will want to consider before “placing their future in the hands of the Holy Father,” as Aupetit did.
Stay safe this Christmas
As I mentioned here last week, following an animated discussion about furniture rearrangement, I put our Christmas tree up, and it’s settled nicely into what I can only describe as the “absolute bloody middle of the living room.”
It’s a lovely tree. And, herself having a mind for taking precautions, my wife has been very good about reminding me to water it daily, and ensure the lights are unplugged when not in use.
She also sent me, as a suggested added precaution, a recipe for a kind of homemade compound — made of dish soap and asbestos, I think — which if you feed the tree makes it fireproof, allegedly. I was skeptical of the chemistry, but more concerned it would cost us the smell of pine in the house, so I drew the line there.
But, not wishing to take lightly my holiday home safety obligations, I did look up on the Googles how not to burn down your house with a Christmas tree.
Among some deep-track warnings and recommendations about the technical specifications of Christmas tree lights, all of which seem to boil down to “don’t get the nice looking ones, you might as well stick a newspaper in your toaster,” I happened upon the website of the National Fire Prevention Association, who can always be relied upon to dial up the seasonal anxiety.
Their Winter Holiday Fire Facts sheet for Christmas trees is short, but educational.
Now, I’m not here to tell NFPA how to do their job. But some of these facts, the last three really, jumped out at me and suggested that their holiday safety push is missing the low hanging fruit.
I’d have thought their website would have, for example, a giant banner reading “Do not intentionally set fire to your Christmas tree.”
I’d have also expected them to, at least once, offer the advice “Do not keep your tree in the absolute bloody middle of your living room for several months after the holiday.”
I’m not a statistician, we leave that to Brendan at The Pillar, but, it seems to me, these two easy steps will reduce your risk of becoming one of the 160 average fires a year by as much as a quarter or more.
And finally, just a reminder that Christmas is, in fact, coming. And, while gift giving is very much a secondary concern next to prayerfully anticipating the coming of the Savior, social convention still demands that you have to do it.
So, instead of getting that favorite priest or religious sister another cardigan, why not give them the gift of real Catholic journalism? Gift subscriptions to The Pillar cost a lot less than an ugly Christmas sweater, and spare you from venturing out into packed shopping malls, or gambling on the vagaries of the U.S. Postal Service.
And a reminder — for the month of December we are giving $10 of every new subscription to Aid to the Church in Need to support priests in countries where they face poverty ad persecution. The money will go to Mass intentions for the holiness of the Church, so you’ll be helping meet spiritual as well as practical needs.
See you next week, and be safe this Christmas, or Easter, or Fourth of July, or whenever you crazy pyros are keeping your trees until.