Cardinal Cupich meets Pope Francis, and a groundhog sees his shadow

The Tuesday Pillar Post

“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties because it's COOOLD out there today!”

It’s Groundhog Day, everybody, and I love it - both the day itself and the 1993 Harold Ramis/Bill Murray film classic. If you’ve never seen the movie, well, today’s the day.

Of course, today is also a traditional Catholic feast called Candlemas, and that’s more important than Groundhog Day. I’ll talk more about it below.

But first, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, when he emerged from his den at Gobbler’s Knob in scenic Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. That shadow portends six more weeks of winter. Six long weeks of winter.

Here’s the good news: Jesus Christ is the light of the world, even in the year-long winter most of us have experienced. And here’s the other bit of good news: Punxsutawney Phil is actually a pretty lousy weatherman. He’s right less than 40% of the time. So let’s not put too much stock in a large squirrel predicting the weather.

Ok, enough about that. Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve been working on at The Pillar.

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Pope Francis has emphasized repeatedly that clerical sexual abuse is a global problem, and that some parts of the world have a lot of work to do to address it. On Friday, we reported the story of an allegation of sexual coercion in one Nigerian archdiocese, and we looked at efforts to address the issue in that country.

When the priest in this story was accused of sexual misconduct, the archdiocese said he was leaving his parish for further studies. He has since left the country, and it’s unclear what will happen next.

I ask you to pray for the woman who shared her story with us, and for a just resolution to the situation.

Also on Friday, Ed and I took an analytic look at the Biden administration’s promise to be “guided by science.” There will be a fight about what “science” really means during the next four years, and the Church will be a part of that fight. Here’s why.

On Monday, we published a report about “wandering priests” with large social media profiles — and we spoke to one canon lawyer about why that can become a problem, and what can be done about it.

“It is a huge problem that the U.S. bishops have essentially ceded their roles as the primary teachers of the Church to certain figures on social media, including those who teach and preach contrary to the faith. And the fact that they allow those figures to have an outsize influence, and therefore basically cede their roles as the proper teachers of the faith, I think is one of the greatest scandals and greatest difficulties in the Church today,” Fr. Pius Pietrzyk told The Pillar.

Read the whole thing here.

A note about this report: A number of readers have asked why this story mentions only “conservative” clerics, when “liberal” ones represent scandal on social media as well. Here’s why: This particular story is about priests who are functionally disconnected from their diocese, but remain influential voices on social media or elsewhere. In my experience, that is mostly a “conservative” phenomenon— and I am interested in eventually trying to explore the reasons for that.

The scope of this story doesn’t mean that outlandish clerical behavior on social media is exclusively the purview of the right. Not even close. But clerics from the left who behave controversially usually aren’t doing so from outside the ordinary supervision structures of their superiors. That, too, is interesting, and it’s something I hope to explore. It’s just not what this particular story is about.

And I would mention that whataboutism is usually a way to avoid looking at an issue we’d rather not examine.

In our ongoing efforts to report about Vatican finances, we offer you an annotated index of the various banks, institutions, and offices that manage money in the Vatican. If you want to know what the “Vatican Bank,” APSA, and the ASIF are all about, and why they matter, this explainer is for you.

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Cardinal Cupich meets with Pope Francis; punditry ensues

Cardinal Blase Cupich met with Pope Francis on Saturday, sparking speculative commentary from all corners of Catholic media.

Cupich, at the center of a major disagreement among the U.S. bishops’ conference, was in Rome for a meeting of the Congregation of Bishops, of which he is a member. He is reported to have asked for a meeting with Pope Francis.

Some pundits suggested Cupich was there to ask the pope for a kind of official Vatican inquiry, or visitation, into the engagement of the U.S. bishops’ conference with President Biden. Others said he was there because the pope himself wanted to signal his support for Cupich’s criticism of the bishops’ conference and its leadership.

A slightly more cynical theory is that Cupich was meeting with the pope so that he could say he’d met with the pope, as part of his effort to spearhead changes at the bishops’ conference.

But we really don’t know what was discussed, or how the meeting went. The absence of facts makes the meeting between the cardinal and the pope the perfect opportunity for pundits on all sides to proffer speculative interpretations supportive of their personal politics. That kind of speculation might get clicks, but it isn’t really clarifying anything.

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With that said, the disagreement that began last week between Cupich and Archbishop Jose Gomez has started to broaden, as Churchmen are weighing in with their views.

Last week, former CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Muller defended Gomez’ criticism of Biden’s policy agenda, saying that a bishop who “relativized the natural moral law for the sake of his political preference or because he favored one party or the other” would be a “false apostle.”

On the other side of the aisle, San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy criticized bishops who would prohibit Biden or other pro-choice politicians from receiving the Eucharist, a move called for by 2004 guidance from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders of the Eucharist based on their public policy stance can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist,” McElroy said at a panel on Monday.

Bishops will continue to weigh in for the next few weeks, some of them more sharply than others. But the USCCB’s disagreement will remain only a war of words for a while, unless one of two things happens. If some U.S. bishops actually decide to prohibit pro-choice politicians from receiving the Eucharist, or if Pope Francis finds an unambiguous way to weigh in on the whole affair, the entire situation could get a lot more tense.

If that doesn’t happen, the dispute will probably simmer, but not reach a boiling point, until prompted by some action of the administration, or until the U.S. bishops next meet, at which point this will be a very contentious topic of discussion.

Ed and I have a few ideas about how the pope might decide to weigh in, and we’ll write about them this week.

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Needlenose Ned? Ned the Head?

I can’t emphasize enough that you should probably watch “Groundhog Day” today. Bill Murray is a genius.

But today is Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and that really is more important. Candlemas is the traditional closing of the Christmas season, which means it’s a good day to take down your Christmas decorations, before you watch “Groundhog Day.”

Candlemas is also the day on which Catholics traditionally have candles blessed. Those blessed candles become a sacramental, their light conveying Christ, who is the Light of the World.

Saint John Henry Newman has a simple poem about Candlemas, holy light, our Blessed Mother, and the whole of the liturgical year. We’ll read it with our kids tonight at bedtime. Perhaps your family will like it too.

Here’s a piece of trivia: At the University of Dallas, a Catholic university, Groundhog Day is one of the most important holidays in the school’s annual calendar. In fact, the University of Dallas celebrates Groundhog Week. Read about why here.

You can read even more about UD’s Groundhog celebration, and other groundhog trivia, here.

Stay tuned this week for more important Catholic news from The Pillar. And, really, I hope tomorrow is different from today.

Please pray for us, as we pray for you.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
editor-in-chief
The Pillar