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Good times, good citizens, and the state of our skies

Happy Friday friends,

And an especially Happy Friday to one occasional reader of these newsletters, my wife.

Herself and I celebrated a decade-and-a-half of marriage this week. 

We had a lovely dinner out, of course. And we did that thing I always assumed middle-aged parents do when they manage a rare night out together — we spent the first 15 minutes drinking wine and sighing “Well, this is nice” contentedly to each other, before moving on to discuss for the rest of the evening our daughter’s continued aversion to Montessori and the comparative quality of her most recent bowel movements. 

Marking 15 years married has been one of those occasional milestones that creep up behind you and mug you for your sense of self, time, and place, leaving you mentally patting your pockets, turning around in place, and asking, “Where the hell am I?” 

On some levels, it can feel like not all that much has changed. When we marked our fifth anniversary, we were living in rented accommodations in Washington, D.C., as I embarked on a new career in canon law.

Some years of graduate school, two transatlantic moves, and a few job changes later, and here we are back in a rented house in D.C., once again wondering how a new career plan is going to pan out.

But whatever the superficial similarities, God has done glorious things for my family in the last decade, and I could never have predicted how generous he would be.

Providence is something we talk a lot about in our house. In front of the biggest questions, the most nagging fears, the greatest uncertainties, we inevitably end up saying “God will provide.” And He always has. Though, if the last 15 years have taught me anything, it is that He will do so in ways I could never imagine.

Five years ago, I’d given up hope we’d ever have children. Today, I have a daughter singing “Do-Re-Mi” under my desk as I type.

Ten years ago, having quit a career in politics midstream, I didn’t have any idea how I’d be able to provide for a family or answer what I perceived to be a call to offer my working life in the service of the Church. Not in the most lurid fever dream could I have imagined The Pillar.

Fifteen years ago, I didn’t know how to be a husband, or a friend to my wife. I was full of romantic good intentions but lacking any kind of maturity, discernment, or wisdom. I still am and I still do. But what I have now is a decade-and-a-half’s experience of how God sustains a marriage, not me.

Everything is providence.


The News

Representatives of the Syro-Malabar Church’s Synod of Bishops met yesterday with clergy opposed to the introduction of liturgical reforms. 

The meeting in Kochi, southern India, brought together members of a committee appointed by the synod — the Church’s governing body — and senior priests of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, who reject the new “uniform mode” of the Syro-Malabar Church’s Eucharistic liturgy.

We shall see what, if any, tangible progress the new round of talks can make in what has become one of the most bitter and implacable disputes in the Church. 

What we can say right now, though, is that Pope Francis’ personal delegate, Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, S.J., seems to have backed away from the whole affair, at least for the time being. 

Opposition priests are getting a new round of talks with Church leaders. That runs directly contrary to what Vasil’ told them last month when he said there would be no negotiations and warned that any further dissent over the liturgy would be a breach of communion with the pope personally, and punished accordingly.

It’s not clear yet what has changed since then. 

Maybe the pope didn’t approve of his delegate going in guns blazing, threatening schism and excommunication right and left. Perhaps Vasil’ himself never thought that would be a winning play, but was doing what he was told to do before returning to Rome to report it hadn’t worked.

Maybe Vasil’’s blood-and-thunder tactics did work, at least enough to convince the Syro-Malabar synod it needed to step back in and get its house in order before something terrible happened.

We don’t know yet. But we’re aiming to find out. In the meantime, get up to speed with the story here.

A Michigan priest will be in court this fall, facing charges that he stole some $830,000 from elderly priests he was allegedly helping to care for — one of whom was on his deathbed.

Fr. David Rosenberg has pled not guilty to three counts of embezzling from “vulnerable adults,” and multiple counts related to fraud. If convicted, Rosenberg will face decades in prison. 

An expert in financial crimes said the case against Rosenberg should be a warning for bishops about the possibility of theft committed against elderly priests — even by other clerics.

This is the kind of thing Fr. Rosenberg was up to, allegedly:

In March 2020, Fr. Joe Aubin, a priests’ retirement home resident, suffered a heart attack, was hospitalized, and was placed on hospice care. 

After the hospital, Aubin was mostly unresponsive, unable to communicate, and taking morphine and lorazepam, a drug used for palliative sedation.

But somehow, heavily medicated and two days from death, Aubin allegedly wrote a cheque to Fr. Rosenberg for $178,022. On the same day, Rosenberg opened a joint bank account with Aubin at a local credit union — and deposited the cheque. 

Two days later, on April 15, 2020, Aubin died and the bank declined to clear the cheque, claiming it was a suspicious circumstance.

So Rosenberg presented another cheque from Aubin’s account — dated the same day, for the same amount —  allegedly signed by Aubin and written to himself for the joint account. 

That cheque cleared.

That’s just one of the cases in this story.

A lot of people like to say that a coming financial scandal for the Church is going to eventually eclipse the institutional impact of the sex abuse scandals of the previous decades. I’m one of those people. 

But very often the Church, from local dioceses right up to the Vatican, has no idea what to do with serious financial criminals — how to prevent them, how to canonically prosecute them, or even determine if they are fit for ministry. That really needs to change.

Read the whole story here. It won’t be the last one.

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Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), has called for members of a fast-growing far-right political party to be banned from holding Church office.

Stetter-Karp said that the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party had “moved further and further to the right” since it was founded 10 years ago and “it is clear that anti-Semitic, racist, inhumane attitudes and statements have no place in a Catholic organization.”

Her assessment of the party is far from novel — a lot of people in Germany and across Europe have charted the rise of AfD and warned of its worrying tendency to rhyme with Germany’s political past.

But members of the party have shot back at her, pointing out that the ZdK isn’t exactly a credible political voice, is far from democratic, and “does not emerge from elections at all, but is a club of functionaries who mostly live full-time from church taxes.”

Behind the back and forth is an interesting question, as Luke Coppen reports: Should the Church close its institutional ranks to members of a legitimate political party which, savory or not, is a big and growing part of the national democratic discussion? 

With other hard-right parties on the march in countries like France and Spain, the question of how the Church responds to nativist populism is going to become more pressing. 

Read the whole story here.

The effects of Pope Francis’ historic first trip to Mongolia continued to shake out this week — including his comments about the need for China’s Christians to be “good citizens.”

As I wrote in an analysis this week, I think there’s some important context to that comment, which has previously been made, and explained, by Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong, who’s made it clear that being good citizens doesn’t mean kowtowing to tyranny.

But I can understand why the comment caused a sensation, coming as it did hot on the heels of several historically problematic words of praise from the pope.

The bishops of Ukraine this week made it clear how incredibly insensitive they found Francis’ recent lauding of the Russian Czar Peter the Great, who was something of a bloody tyrant, and the pope has conceded his invocation of Mother Russia’s imperial past was “perhaps not happy.”

And even while in Mongolia last weekend, Francis prayed for “a renewal, respectful of international laws, of the Pax Mongolica, that is the absence of conflicts” brought in under Genghis Khan.

While we certainly can all join the pope’s prayer for world peace, and I understand the impulse to be a gracious guest, Francis’ invocation of the Mongol Empire struck me as even more “unhappy” than his foray into Russian history.

Genghis’ “Pax Mongolica” was effected by the wholesale slaughter of anyone who refused to submit, and the khan and his sons were such avid practitioners of rape on an industrial scale that it’s estimated 0.5% of the entire global population carry his genes today.

Praising the tranquility of Genghis Khan’s empire seems to me just as misguided and historically insensitive as visiting Richmond and lauding Jefferson Davis for his commitment to property rights.

This regrettable context notwithstanding, though, I do think Francis’ China comments were far more calculated than people understood, and aimed at his abiding ambition to secure an invite to Beijing. 

And while I think that might be a very long shot, it is worth considering the potential impact such a papal trip could have, for either Francis or his eventual successor, whom the pope has taken to calling “John XXIV.”

You can read my whole analysis here.

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And finally, this week we brought you the story of the 15-year-old boy who has started his own rosary business.

William Henry lives in the mountains of western North Carolina and told us how his devotion to the rosary grew, and grew into quite the after-school side project.

A few years ago, a friend of his started making rosaries, and gave Henry an Irish penal rosary – a type of one-decade rosary used when Catholicism was illegal in Ireland.

“He showed it to me and my family, and I thought it was awesome,” Henry said. “The day after I got it, I think I carried it around all day, just praying the rosary every now and then. I really gravitated toward it.”

He was so enthralled with the rosary that his friend jokingly suggested starting a business. But he did: Rings of the Lord.

Henry designed almost the entirety of the current website himself, experimenting and watching online videos to learn as he went. The business has gotten some international reach – he has sent rosaries to Germany and Canada, among other places.

This is a kid with some enviable spiritual devotion, and some serious hustle. I love it. Read the whole thing.

Murky waters

With the passage of Labor Day, most of the pools are now closed, even if it remains 90 degrees here in Washington.

While I might wish our own local oasis had stayed open another week or two, I am grateful we had a final long weekend to enjoy, unlike the people of Absecon, New Jersey, where, I read, a local man spent his summer using a drone to drop bags of sea dye, used by downed pilots to mark their spot in the waves for rescue, into local pools.

I have no idea what motivated Patrick J. Spina IV (45) to do this (allegedly), but he succeeded in turning several pools all sorts of livid shades (sometimes more than once), vexing bathers and baffling police, before his arrest on several counts of criminal mischief.

A couple of things struck me about this story. 

The first is that, barring some disordered sense of hydrophobia, I have to imagine Spina did this for the pure hell of it. In which case, this is probably the most evocative example of “criminal mischief” I could imagine. 

The second thing that amazes me about this story is that the victims were essentially defenseless against the attacks, even if they’d caught Spina’s drone in the act. 

It is, so far as I have been able to google, absolutely illegal anywhere in this country to blow a drone out of the sky as it hovers over your pool dropping baggies of God only knows what.

I do not understand how it’s possible that you are allowed to shoot trespassing humans in many jurisdictions if they threaten your hearth and home (I’m not saying I approve of those laws, I’m just saying they exist), but it’s verboten to use a shotgun on robots dive-bombing your koi pond, because federal law draws no distinction between doing that and taking pot shots at 747s with an RPG. 

Leaving aside the admittedly outlying case of Spina treating New Jersey pools like the Chicago River in March, it seems absurd to me that a person can fly a drone they got at Walmart up to your bedroom window, or film your kids playing in your yard, and all you can do is shake your fist at the sky in impotent rage, like a farmer cursing the weather.

I mean this totally ironically but I’m sorry, I thought this was America.

Another thing, perhaps linked to my previous point, that struck me about the New York Times write-up of this story is that there is no indication of how Spina was caught. I find this curious, to the point of being concerning. 

I doubt it’s laziness on the part of the reporter, since she was sufficiently committed to the story to get quotes from a Coast Guard petty officer on the nature and purpose of the sea dye and its use in the 1980s classic film “Top Gun.”

More likely, the cops just aren’t talking about how they caught him because, I would imagine, trying to track a fast-moving, high-flying drone across the suburban landscape is almost impossible to do using conventional means. And I’m betting if it got out how they actually did it, every suburban dad would be hoisting a Gadsen flag and launching birdshot into the sky, FAA regulations be damned.

Somewhere off the turnpike, probably parked right next to all that paramilitary hardware our police forces blow their budgets on these days, I’m guessing the NJ State Troopers have a shipping container full of surplus Air Force tech, piloted by gamers in riding boots and Smokey the Bear hats, flying overwatch across the state.  

You probably think I’m joking. Well, let’s wait and see how they end up catching that guy who managed to crab-walk out of prison in Pennsylvania. I’m betting it won’t be bloodhounds and Cool Hand Luke-style manhunting, it’ll be like something out of “Homeland.”

See you next week, and remember: the state troopers are watching you. Probably.

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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