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Feast now, the synod we deserve, and explaining Eurovision

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Happy Friday friends,

We are closing in on Pentecost, which officially closes the Easter season. 

I hope you’ve been keeping up the feasting for the full 50 days — I’ve probably been doing about as well as I did with the fasting during Lent. Not great, if I’m honest. But the good news is that it’s never too late to start in earnest. I mean that. 

It’s something of a Catholic cliché during Lent that Father will tell you, perhaps directly in the confessional or more generally in a homily, that if you’ve been remiss at the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving prescribed to properly gear up for Holy Week, now is the day to begin again.

Cliché it may be, but it is true. The prophets are constantly telling the people of Israel that now, today, is the favorable time to turn back to the Lord. That even now, however late the hour, we can return to Him with weeping and repentance. 

It seems to me that it’s equally true (and an even better good news) that it is never too late to rekindle the Easter flames of joy, to seize with all our souls the victory of Christ over death — our death — and our sins. 

Maybe it says something about our nature, and the phenomenon called “Catholic guilt,” that we are often more receptive to being called to repentance than to celebration. But I often find myself meditating upon Paul’s admonition to the Philippians: “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.”

I need constant reminding that what God desires is my happiness, not some arid conformity to an arbitrary moral code for its own sake; that those things for which I do need to repent are malum in se to God precisely because they lead me away from Him and thus away from my own happiness. 

As this relates to Pentecost, I need reminding, too, as I pray for the Holy Spirit, that what is on offer isn’t my “betterment,” so to speak, but my fulfillment.

Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord make for an impressive-sounding list of gifts and add up to imposing character study of a true Christian. But it’s a mistake, I think, to consider or even desire them without reference to their fruits.

Charity (love), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity are a recipe for a moral life, I suppose. But they seem to me much better described as a portrait of a happy one. 

Of that list the word that leaps out at me most is joy. Not a transient happiness from the satisfaction of an appetite or desire — even a healthy one — but the abiding existential elation sustained by God’s all-conquering love. Not for nothing, I think, does the invocation of the Holy Spirit plead for him to kindle in us the fire of this love.

It’s this fire our feast this weekend is meant to stoke — and I aim to do it as gladly as I can. After all, if you want someone to give you gifts, it’s normal to throw a party.


Here’s the news.

The News

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople made a surprise announcement Thursday, saying that Pope Francis is planning to visit Turkey in 2025.

According to the Orthodox leader, there is already a mixed Orthodox-Catholic commission working on the details so he and the pope can mark the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicea together, right where it all happened.

The Vatican have yet to make any such announcement, but the patriarch was pretty emphatic that it’s happening:

“His Holiness Pope Francis wants to celebrate this very important anniversary together, and he plans to come to our country to visit with us in Constantinople at the Patriarchate, and then proceed together to Nicaea to have some important celebrations on this anniversary,” he said.

This is… kind of a big deal.

Read all about it here.

Authorities in Belarus have detained two Catholic priests amid an ongoing crackdown on civil society in the East European country.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s Polish province, which oversees the order’s mission in neighboring Belarus, confirmed May 10 the detention of Fr. Andrzej Juchniewicz, and Fr. Pavel Lemekh.

The Polish province said that the priests, based at the diocesan shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Shumilina, northern Belarus, were in custody awaiting trial “for alleged subversive activities against the Belarusian state,” which governed as Russian satellite by the dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

You can follow the story of their arrest, and the other priests detained there, here.

The Washington state attorney general is seeking a court order to enforce a sweeping subpoena of Church records from the state’s three dioceses. The state’s bishops, however, are pushing back, citing First Amendment violations and saying the AG has overstepped his authority.

As I looked at in an (admittedly longish) analysis this week, the Washington standoff between AG’s Office and state episcopate is the most recent example of events seen elsewhere, too. But while I have a lot of time for the legal objections (in Washington and elsewhere), I wonder how much of this special attention American bishops have brought on themselves.

It’s one thing to argue for the rights of your clergy to due process and public reputation when an AG subpoenas records of unproven and perhaps unprovable historical allegations. But it’s a hard thing to argue when dioceses generally show no such concerns in publishing their own lists of “credibly accused” clerics.

Similarly, the Washington AG is meant to be looking for evidence that “charitable dollars” were used by diocesan leadership (bishops) to cover up or facilitate abuse over the decades. This is in the same state where, in 2022, the emeritus Bishop of Yakima, Carlos Sevilla, said he’d been investigated by the Archbishop of Seattle and handed a formal reprimand by Pope Francis over his handling of abuse cases. 

But Sevilla wouldn’t say what he’d done to merit the papal rebuke, nor would Seattle’s Archbishop Eitenne, who conducted the investigation. And neither of them would tell Sevilla’s successor in the Yakima diocese, Bishop Tyson, either.

I can’t imagine why the AG thinks there’s something worth looking at in those records.

Read the whole analysis here and see if you can figure it out.

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When Fr. Francis Wahle died this week at the age of 94, he was one of the oldest priests in England. But before he became that, he was also one of nearly 10,000 Jewish children who escaped Nazi Europe through the mass evacuation known as the Kindertransport.

As Fr. Terry Tastard wrote for us in a profile of Wahle this week, his was a fascinating life and inspiring ministry. 

A cradle Catholic with four Jewish grandparents who had to flee the Nazis as a nine year old, he described himself as “like a tree with two roots — my Christian roots, my religion; and my Jewish roots, my ancestors.” 

“I can make the Catholics less antisemitic and the Jews less afraid of Catholicism.” 

The world being what it is right now, his is a witness we can learn from.

Read all about him here.

A community of 16 Poor Clare religious sisters in Spain have announced their intention to leave the Catholic Church and place themselves under the jurisdiction of a self-proclaimed “bishop.”

That’s the headline of a story that is so complicated and weird that the local archbishop said publicly he thought it was “fake news” when first he heard about it.

The full story is certainly… full of surprising detail, as Filipe d’Avillez reported for us this week. The sisters announced their intentions in a five page letter accompanied by a 40 page manifesto, blasting Pope Francis, “genocidal and bloody wars,” and “the silence of our pastors.”

Instead, the sisters say they will seek safety under the wing of Pablo de Rojas Sánchez-Franco, described by the sister’s superior as “a legitimate bishop,” but who is in fact nothing of the kind. 

He’s actually something of a weirdo, addition to being a schismatic, and wasn’t so far as I can tell, validly consecrated a bishop, and I’d call his priestly ordination suspect, too. In addition to rejecting every pope since Pius XII, he also styles himself an “Imperial Duke” and “Five times Great of Spain,” so you get a flavor for what these nuns are signing up for.

Of course, dig a little deeper and it turns out the real root of the convent’s discontent is money and real estate — they are fuming that the Church blocked the sale of a convent building meant to fund the purchase of another property. 

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. Read the whole thing here.

For those who did not know, it was the Eurovision Song contest this week. And for those only superficially familiar with it, you might wonder why this merits inclusion in the news section of this newsletter.

It’s true, the competition is long on sequins, smut, high camp and performative paganism. But Croatia’s entry and competition runner up this year is a horse of a different color, as this interview will show you.

At the age of 25, Marko Purišić already had a successful career as a musician. He performed for audiences of thousands, and he was a sought-after songwriter. But Purišić, who performs as “Baby Lasagna” (I have no idea), credits a religious conversion with changing his life.

Battling depression and isolation, he found “for the first time I wanted to listen in the church, and not just talk.”

“What do you want to tell me, God? How can you help me? And I received an answer. It was not some kind of audio recording directed at my ears, it was more of a feeling in my heart, with which God let me know: ‘You are mine’.”

“God became a living person for me at that moment. When I remember those words, I start to cry,” he said.

This is not your standard Eurovision finalist’s story (as we’ll discuss later) and it is all the more worth reading for that.

This week marked the deadline for the world’s bishops’ conferences to submit feedback ahead of this October’s session of the synod on synodality, and several reports claimed significant support for the admission of women to the diaconate.

Australia, Austria, Luxembourg, and Switzerland all posted their reports online and, as Luke Coppen noted this morning, claimed “widespread agreement” for a female diaconate.

But, again, as Luke noted, there was little if any apparent consensus on what a female diaconate would be or do. Would it be the recovery of an Apostolic era institution, or something new? Would it be sacramental ordination — supposed to be impossible in Church teaching — or something else?

No one seems to agree.

And it isn’t exactly clear how real the reported consensus actually is. Australia’s synodal report, for example, claimed “widespread agreement across many geographical dioceses” for lady deacons, but also noted “consultation fatigue,” which it said was leading “to less engagement in later phases.” 

In some cases, the reports seem to be relating the consensus of chancery officials and specially designated consultors, rather than the faithful at large, which makes me suspect this supposed groundswell of support is maybe more astroturf than grassroots.

Read Luke’s full analysis here.

The synod we deserve

If anyone was wondering why there suddenly seems to be a sudden push in synodal documents regarding the female diaconate, the synod’s relator-general Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich helpfully clarified this morning.

Speaking to the official media portal of the Swiss bishops’ conference, the Belgian cardinal said that the campaign for the sacramental ordination of women needed to show some “tact and patience” if they wanted to see “real solutions.”

"If you attack too much, you won't achieve much," warned that man in charge of marshaling and synthesizing the synod process’s conclusions. "You have to be cautious, take one step at a time, and then you might be able to go very far."

According to the German bishops’ portal, the teaching on sacramental ordination being reserved to men alone “isn’t infallible doctrine,” and the cardinal appeared to agree, saying “It can be changed. It needs arguments and time.”

The thrust of Hollerich’s argument was that the Church as a whole wasn’t prepared to accept women priests at the moment, and there needed to be a commitment to long-term argument for change, and trying for too much too soon could serve to galvanize opposition. “We must be very careful not to initiate a huge backlash,” he said.

As I noted in an analysis, for those who have been defending the synod as a sincere work of the Holy Spirit, devoid of ecclesial-political agendas, Hollerich’s comments will likely come as a bucket of cold water.

Pope Francis has repeatedly affirmed that female priestly ordination is impossible — back in May of 2019 he made the point rather sharply to a meeting of women religious superiors, telling them “We are Catholics, but if any of you want to found another Church you are free to go.” He’s been equally consistent in saying the synodal process isn’t a parliament and it isn’t a forum for debating changes to doctrine. 

But Cardinal Hollerich clearly disagrees on both fronts. And, whatever the pope may say, so long as Francis leaves the cardinal in post and uncorrected as the summarizer-in-chief of the synodal assemblies, many will conclude his (in)action speaks louder than words.

At this point, I think Hollerich’s “huge backlash” is probably inevitable. Delegates from every side will read his words and understand that all bets are off when the assembly reconvenes in October, and they will prepare accordingly.

The results will be divisive, they will be acrimonious, they will spread confusion and doubt among the faithful. 

It will look nothing like the synod Pope Francis promised. But given his decision to leave in place a cardinal who seems comfortable rejecting the immutability of Church teaching and ignoring the pope’s own instructions, it is perhaps the synod we all deserve.

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Explaining Eurovison

The Eurovision Song Contest is one of those rare European cultural phenomena where trying to explain or unpack it for Americans watching on from outside basically means affirming that it’s actually every bit as mad, camp, and bizarre as it looks.

If you were to watch Will Ferrell’s 2020 film “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” you’d be forgiven for thinking it another of his heightened-to-absurdity-and-beyond satires. In fact, it’s closer to a lightly fictionalized documentary.

Ostensibly, it's a celebration of continental diversity, a kind of mutual reveling in amped up kitsch. And, on one level, it just is that. But beneath the ludicrous outfits there’s a lot of high drama, and often bitter cultural clashes.

Although overtly political language is banned from songs, the whole contest is political, and the points, awarded country-by-country by both national popular vote and by committee, often give a better map of the continent’s political and cultural contours and populist sentiments than any diplomatic summit.

Since participating nations can’t vote for themselves, cultural voting blocks abound — Mediterranean, Scandi, and former Eastern bloc countries often back each other’s acts. And any nation which has particularly distinguished or disgraced itself on the international stage will often see it reflected in the competition.

But for me, the most interesting part of the night is seeing the disparity between the popular votes from the national phone-ins vs the determination of their “juries” of cultural and industry experts appointed by the state broadcasters.

Case in point: Israel’s entry this year, Eden Golan, spent the contest virtually confined to her hotel room in the Swedish city of Malmo besieged by thousands (actually thousands) of protestors who rallied outside to demonstrate against her presence.

The polite establishment opinion was broadly tolerant of, if not overtly sympathetic to, those protests, and it was reflected by the national juries’, with 24 of the 37 competing countries’ elite panels giving Golan zero points. 

Meanwhile the popular vote in 14 nations opted to award Golan the maximum number of points — in 12 countries where the expert panel awarded zero points, the popular vote awarded the max.

Make of that what you will.

Bambie Thug, Ireland’s contestant, meanwhile, went publicly bananas when Golan made it to the final round, saying she “cried with her team” when she heard Golan would go through. 

A self described “queer witch” who performed a Harry Potter-inflected occult love song with her boyfriend, she told press she was appalled Golan was allowed to compete because, as a minority herself, she was offended by Israel’s participation because it “stands against” the “big community” that is “everything Eurovision is supposed to be.”

Israel has previously fielded a number of successful entries, including a transgender entrant who won the contest in a beard and ballgown. 

Bambei later accused the Israeli national broadcaster of inciting violence against her by calling her performance “the most scary of the night” in their broadcast commentary, noting it contained “a lot of spells and black magic and dark clothing, Satanic symbols, and voodoo dolls,” which seemed mostly accurate to me.

Bambei Thug isn’t actually cary. She’s really incredibly tedious.

Ms. Thug is herself an interesting study in contestant selection by the national broadcasters who pick the acts — itself another very entertaining part of the Eurovision experience. 

Ireland, you might think, with its rich musical tradition, would be a perennially strong contender, but this hasn’t been the case for a while. Although it holds the record for most wins by a nation (7), and most in a row (3), all of these came before the introduction of popular voting in 1998. 

Since then they’ve fared less well, and failed to even qualify for the finals from 2019 until this year.

Bambei Thug is one of those acts I imagine are seen as “edgy” and counter cultural by the national selectors, delivering a kind of pointed rejection of the Irish image as tweed-clad cheeky chappies with a pint in their hand and a twinkle in their eye, all dominated by the sinister Church.

Of course, the reality is that Ireland doesn’t actually exist, and hasn’t for two generations, as anyone remotely familiar with the place knows. But the acts who do best at Eurovision tend to play with, rather than openly despise, their national pop culture image.

Perhaps as a result, Thug did rather poorly — getting pretty minimal scores of four points or less from most countries, and maximum points from no one, even among the national expert juries.

The UK, meanwhile, is even more interesting in this regard. It could, as it tells everyone annually, dominate the competition if it wanted to, at least in terms of musical talent with trans-continental appeal. Certainly enough UK pop acts do.

Instead, Britain has had some of the most famously terrible entrants in the competition’s history  — often scoring, as this year’s act did, zero points in either the popular or jury voting rounds. 

Some people blame this on EU snobbery and anti-Britsh sentiment, which is real to a degree (pre and post Brexit). But there is also the not unreasonable sense that an implicit part of Eurovision is a collective bucking of the international Anglophone cultural hegemony. 

The whole reality is a little more complicated. 

The UK acts are chosen by the national broadcaster, the BBC, an institution which despises the British people and nation almost as much as the European Union does. Picking tragi-comically bad entrants year after year is, many suspect, a sort of thinly coded act of solidarity by the Beeb with Europe, and a kind of apology for Britain’s continued existence.

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I’ve often wondered why America doesn’t join the competition (despite its name it’s pretty much open to all comers — Australia competes). 

Perhaps there is no clear sense of who the “national broadcaster” is — six different American networks are members of the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event. 

Or maybe they collectively have the sense that giving Europeans the chance to vote against Americans in a national-themed battle of the bands is asking for humiliation.

But given the audience over here for adapting other music act competitions from Europe, like American Idol, America’s Got Talent and the X-Factor, it’s a surprise to me we don’t have an “Amerivision Song Contest” with state-by-state entries and voting.

Musically, it could be compellingly diverse viewing: rap battles, country rivalries, Motown, and whatever Lady Gaga is supposed to be, I guess.

Of course, I’d expect that — as with Eurovision — it would all get political very, very, quickly. Though I don’t know if it would be as simple as red vs. blue state voting. 

You might think we’d have a pretty neat split between the cultural coasts (which include most inland major cities) and the middle of America, but would you bank on crowds in Boston bars dialing in to vote for New York? Or LA types tactically backing an Illinois songbird from corn country because they like the way Chicago does politics?

I wouldn’t.

Of course, the real problem would be that points, both popular and by jury, would be allocated equally between all states, and not by population. Pretty soon, artists would learn to draw for the inside straight needed to win a majority, appealing to niche issues and tastes to deliver key states.

After a couple of contentious results, you’d soon have California and New York demanding an end to the musical electoral college in the face of national opinion poll leads for their acts. 

From there, pretty soon you’d see the whole show settle into a procession for the two inevitable super-candidates who would emerge. The ones who can appeal to the largest possible plurality of the country, and activate the most engaged voter-driving bases.

We’d end up with Taylor Swift singing against Donald Trump, wouldn’t we? 

Forget I said anything.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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