Cardinals, crooks, and Cooperstown

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday Friends,

I don’t know how the week was for you, but I spent a goodish part of it in a Detroit airport terminal - thank you, Delta. It was an instructive experience. I did not know, for example, that some airports have entire shops given over to selling “shapewear.” I did not know what “shapewear” was, either. Live and learn, I guess.

Fortunately, since we can work from anywhere these days, there was still plenty to be getting on with. 

Man in the middle

Since last you heard from us, we reported that Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark has been asked by the Vatican to mediate a settlement between a Jesuit school in Indianapolis and local Archbishop Charles Thompson. 

The case of Brebeuf Jesuit High School is an interesting one for a number of reasons. 

One of the teachers entered a civil same-sex marriage, with a teacher at another Catholic school, as it happens. Indianapolis’ Archbishop Charles Thompson told both schools not to renew their contracts. The archdiocesan school complied, and Brebeuf did not.

Archbishop Thompson then revoked the school’s Catholic identity, which is about as close to a “nuclear option” as there is for these sorts of situations. This triggered a tense standoff with the Jesuit province that sponsors the school, who appealed to the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. 

It is understandable that Rome would prefer the school and the diocese reach a resolution, rather than have to impose one from on high. Any precedent the congregation might set would be almost certain to kick off an outraged response from the opposing side. 

As the former archbishop of the diocese and a former secretary of the Vatican’s congregation for religious, Cardinal Tobin is, as one curial official told us, an “obvious and trustworthy” mediator for both sides, and this is not the first time the Vatican have asked him to step into a sensitive situation.

It’s also further evidence of Tobin’s reputation in Rome as a quiet, reliable force to call on. Tobin  is often spoken of as the cardinal the Vatican calls when it wants to talk about America, and a man who creates solutions, not more problems. 

His name is increasingly mentioned in conversations about a looming curial reshuffle, slated for this year. With the Congregations for Clergy and Bishops both expected to change leaders, the chances of Tobin making a move to Rome are not inconsiderable.

Dying for help

This week saw yet another tragic example of doctors going to court to withdraw food and water from a man in a coma. Nothing so illustrates the culture of death as the growing inversion of the medical profession in many places, with killing now synonymous with curing for a terrifying number of doctors.

In this case, the Polish man, known as R.S. in court documents, had been in a coma since November, when he had a heart attack. Doctors in the U.K., where he lived, got court approval to essentially starve him to death. He died on Tuesday.

R.S. is the latest in a growing line of patients essentially sentenced to death by the British courts for the crime of being too ill to be worth caring for, joining the ranks of Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard. 

Worse, the U.K. doctors resisted efforts to have him transferred to a hospital willing to care for him, despite efforts by the Polish government to repatriate the man. The story raises bitter echoes of the grotesque scene of police restraining the parents of Alfie Evans as they tried to take him out of the hospital to a helicopter waiting to take him for treatment at a Vatican hospital.

While there seems little prospect of the legal situation improving, JD noted this week that the English bishops had - at last - expressed some opposition to the prospect of doctors starving a man to death under cover of law:

“The Catholic Church continues to oppose the definition of assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment which has now become the basis of medical and legal decisions to withdraw assisted nutrition and hydration from patients. Providing food and water to very sick patients, even by assisted means, is a basic level of care,” the bishops noted. 

It’s not exactly a cry to heaven for justice, still less the Lord’s tears for Lazarus. But, as JD noted, it is a step — a step the bishops were unwilling to take for either Alfie or Charlie. JD looked at why the British bishops seem to be finding their voice. 

Probable cause

The story of the Vatican finance scandal can be about as easy to follow as Finnegan’s Wake. We want you, our readers, to be able to follow this story as it keeps breaking — and it is going to keep breaking. 

To that end, we have put together a quick primer on the “who, what, when, and for how much?!” of the London property deal at the heart of the scandal.

Here at The Pillar, we are committed to doing the long form, detail-heavy reporting on this scandal that we know can make a difference. As we go, we’ll keep producing explainers that break down all this coverage. 

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So, with that said, buckle up buttercups, because here come some details:

This week, we reported on the latest developments of a U.K. lawsuit against Gianluigi Torzi, the middleman arrested in June last year for trying to extort the Vatican over the London property deal, which kicked off the current sprawling investigation into the Secretariat of State’s financial dealings.

Why does a complicated lawsuit in London by an Italian insurance company matter? Because, we think, it goes some way to explaining why Torzi would want to shake down the Vatican for an extra 10 million at the end of the London deal.

It also lays bare the, well, let’s call it “tangled” relationship between Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, the businessman who invested hundreds of millions of euros of the secretariat’s money for them, including in Torzi’s projects, with Torzi loaning Mincione’s company millions at the same time. 

It was Mincione who sold the secretariat the London building for a total of 350 million euros, give or take, as part of the Vatican’s efforts to part ways with him. And it was Torzi’s job to broker the sale on the Vatican’s behalf. 

But I’m sure it’s fine.

Last chance

This week, for the first time since 1960, no one was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. Most importantly for me, both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens failed to make it to Cooperstown, again. 

Despite posting record-setting statistics throughout their careers, charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress will forever link those players to the scandal of performance enhancing drugs. 

Bonds took the career home run record off Hank Aaron, the recently deceased true legend of the game, in 2007. But the feat remains, in the minds of some Hall of Fame voters at least, tainted by the suspicion that he did so while loaded up with more steroids than a herd of prime Nebraska beef cattle. Allegedly.

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Clemens similarly carved his name into the record books, if not fans’ hearts, with stellar career numbers, and with an equally impressive entry in the Mitchell Report on the illegal use of performance enhancers in the professional game.

They now have one more chance to make it into the Hall before their causes get kicked over to the veterans' committee. I hope they fail, again and forever.

It’s been a hopeful sign that, despite the rolling heresies Major League Baseball has dreamed up recently (robot umpires, the universal DH, starting a runner on second in extra innings), the guardians of baseball immortality have acted to keep out two players who epitomize an era that still stains the sport’s soul.

Baseball means a lot to me. And, as a Cubs fan who grew up in the 80s and 90s, my interest in the game has always been more philosophical than competitive. How the game is played means a lot more to me than who wins any given contest. Baseball was, at times, a school of virtue for me.

My favorite player growing up was Andre Dawson. Although he’d had a few good years with the Expos, he showed up at Cubs spring training in 1987 with bad knees and a blank contract; offering, essentially, to play for free if the Cubs would sign him. It was, my grandfather told me, what humility looks like.

That season, Dawson won the home run derby and was National League MVP. That the Cubs finished in last place that year doesn’t matter, because the Hawk played the game with, as his teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg called it, respect. 

Those players respected their teammates, their opponents, themselves, the fans, and the game. They lost games, but they played them the right way. 

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens won everything and respected nothing. There is no honor in their careers, and no virtue in their achievements. This is equally true of the cheating Houston Astr*s of recent years. 

As men, I hope they all find redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life. As ballplayers, may they be forever cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and grinding of teeth.

See you next week, and watch the signs.

Ed. Condon

editor

The Pillar