Feasting like sons, Vos estis, and Beer and Loathing at the Ballpark

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday friends,

I hope your Easter is going well. I was sitting with some manly Catholic men last week talking about how our Lent had gone in preparation for the Triduum. We ended up talking a bit about the difficulty of giving yourself over to a season of feasting. It’s tricky. 

The temptation is to feel like we don’t deserve it, haven’t earned it. That, of course, is the whole point — we don’t deserve God’s love, we cannot possibly earn the incredible riches of the resurrection, it is His free gift made in love. 

Not being a father myself, I sometimes struggle with the idea of God loving me as a son. But the guys I was having breakfast with, dads all, helped me grasp better the all-consuming nature of parental love, and the existential horror a dad would feel knowing his child couldn’t accept it.

So, it’s still Easter, party on — you definitely don’t deserve it.

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We’ve been a little light on reported news this week. In part, that’s just the rhythm of things; not a lot happened in the Church this week in terms of hard news. And it’s Easter Week. We also have our laundry list of longer-lead investigations we are working on, and they come when they come. I’m sure you understand.

One of the things that did happen this week was the death of Hans Küng, the dissident theologian. Once a leading light in Catholic theology at the time of Vatican II, Küng’s writings were deemed heretical in the 1970s. 

Küng rejected, inter alia, Church teaching on papal infallibility, though this hasn’t stopped him being lionized in death by some Church commentators, some of whom are, ironically, the most interested in policing fidelity to Pope Francis.

Following on from the pope’s much-commented-upon decision to celebrate Mass privately on Holy Thursday with the disgraced Cardinal Angelo Becciu, I wrote a post noting that some journalists keep expecting a rehabilitation for Becciu, while Pope Francis is behaving very differently than his predecessor in this case.

Francis’ decision to sack Becciu while, by all accounts, remaining friends with the man his own police are investigating, stands in seemingly stark contrast to Benedict XVI’s commitment to sparing his own close friend and Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who faced significant allegations of corruption during his own time in office. 

Wednesday brought the news that the Diocese of Duluth finally has a new bishop. JD assessed the increasing difficulty Rome is having filling vacant sees in the U.S. and the financial hardship facing many smaller dioceses, and noting that the Vatican might begin considering merging some of them.

I have my own thoughts on that, and what I’m calling the “era of big government” in diocesan thinking, and so I’ve suggested some other options I think are more likely to happen, and more likely to help remake Church structures better suited to their evangelizing mission in the contemporary world.

Road to reform, or just a treadmill?

This month marks the twenty-year anniversary of the promulgation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, St. John Paul II’s motu proprio establishing norms for the handling of “more grave delicts,” canon law speak for major crimes, most notably sexual abuse. It was a gigantic canonical reform at the time, and, with some updates by Benedict XVI in 2010, it defined the Church’s handling of such cases for two decades, until Pope Francis’ promulgation of Vos estis lux mundi.

Francis’ reforms, following the McCarrick scandal, aimed to tighten up the procedure for handling accusations against bishops.

So far, the Vatican has amassed an impressive record of opening cases against bishops when an accusation is made. Less impressive has been the record of bringing these cases to a conclusion. 

This week marks the one year anniversary of Cardinal George Pell’s release from prison in Australia, after the High Court overturned his conviction for sexual abuse and exonerated him. 

While Pell was in jail, the Vatican issued a series of carefully worded statements noting Pell’s right to exhaust his legal appeals in Australia and expressing their confidence that the final result would see justice done. 

They also announced that a canonical process had been opened against Pell at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to examine the charges on which he had already, by that point, been convicted by a civil court. In the year since Pell’s release, there has been no public announcement that the CDF process has been closed, or that the canonical court has similarly vindicated Pell.

Now, to be clear, in the light of the High Court finding, it would be unreasonable for a canonical process against Pell to actually proceed.

But, having been publicly opened in the first place, the case does have to be officially closed, for the integrity of the Vatican legal system.

If it is not closed — if the case is just basically shrugged off, open but never formally concluded because what’s the point? — it could reinforce a perception that canonical trials are, essentially, a kind of secret Vatican kabuki theater; there for show when an outcome needs to be reached, but a tiresome formality to be ignored when there is no pressing need for a conviction.

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Credible, public, legal exonerations are not a formality. They are a necessary part of building confidence in the legal process. Delivering a result in every case, even if it appears redundant, is essential to the integrity of the process - especially if you are having a hard time delivering results in other, less clear cases.

Just before Easter, the former Bishop of Albany, Howard Hubbard, became the latest U.S. prelate to face investigation under Vos estis. He joins a growing list of American bishops, retired and serving, facing allegations of abuse or cover-up, in many cases going back decades.

In December, Charleston Bishop Robert Guglielmone was cleared after a nearly 18-month investigation into claims dating back to the 1970s. But cases are still open against at least three sitting American diocesan bishops, two of the investigations are now in their second year.

To win back the trust of the faithful, it is not enough for the Church to be seen to be doing things. For Vos estis, and the broader reforming agenda towards more episcopal accountability, to be judged a success, it has to actually get things done.

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Beer and Loathing at the Ballpark

I had mentally reserved the last word of this newsletter to briefly set my hair on fire about the latest outrage of Rob Manfred, the malignant sack of smarm poured into a suit and put in charge of professional baseball, presumably as some kind of divine punishment for our national sins.

The MLB commissioner’s office has its tentacles wrapped around the game in a death grip, like a kind of corporate vampire squid, relentlessly thrusting its blood funnel into anything that smells remotely like money or TV ratings, and sucking the life and joy out of baseball in the process. 

I’d wanted to share my thoughts on Manfred’s decision to pull this season’s All Star game out of Georgia in response to a new state election law, shoving politics into one of the last neutral public squares we have in this country. But I won’t, because something else happened this week in baseball, and I need to discuss it.

Now, I grant you, I do not like the New York Mets, so maybe I’m biased, and maybe I should cut them a little slack. After all, it is no easy feat to inhabit the same city as the Yankees and still be the unlikable team. But the Mets really have outdone themselves this time:

On Thursday, facing a 1-2 count in the bottom of the ninth, with bases loaded against the Marlins, outfielder Michael Conforto stuck his elbow out across the plate to catch a graze from a clear strike three and secure a walkoff win for the Mets. It was, as you can see from the video, deliberate.

The rules state that a player has to make a good faith effort to avoid being hit by a pitch, and Conforto, putting it mildly, did what he did in anything but good faith. It was also a strike.

The man himself put it bluntly after the game: “A win's a win,” he said.

But a win isn’t a win. At least it shouldn’t be, and certainly not in baseball, a sport which has always prized the spirit in which it is played as much as the result. 

“A win’s a win” is the attitude which gave us the steroid scandal and the Houston Astr*s, it’s an affront to the concept of sportsmanship. But, much like Barry Bonds kept his home run record and the Astros kept their championship rings, Conforto knows he can brazen this out. 

Baseball used to be a byword for American values and society, our national pastime — a communal activity, not competition at all costs. But, as with so many of our public institutions, our confidence has been betrayed, over and over, not just by bad actors, but by the lack of accountability and remorse. The toll is real.

Even the Mets’ broadcast team was horrified on Thursday. But not so Conforto’s teammates, who mobbed him as he rounded the bases, slapping his head and drenching him in Gatorade like he’d just crushed a solo homer to win Game 7. It’s a sad sign of our times. 

A win’s a win, but what have we lost?

See you next week, and you stay classy, New York.

Ed. Condon
Editor
The Pillar