JD Flynn here, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.
The nation had its eyes on Iowa last night. The state is said to be predictive of our nation’s future, so when Hawkeyes gather in gymnasiums or VFW halls to express their preferences, people listen.
Synodality in action, perhaps? I don’t know about that, but here we are.
On the ecclesiastical front, Iowa might also be a harbinger for the country’s future. Of the state's four dioceses, one has been vacant for nearly six months, and another has been led by a superannuated bishop for even longer.
As episcopal sees stretch vacant for longer, and as America’s bishops keep aging, we should expect that Iowa, where half the dioceses are in unusual circumstances, will soon become the norm.
Iowa is religiously interesting in other ways — I’ve written before about how Dubuque, Iowa became the country’s smallest metropolitan see.
And you might be surprised to learn that Cedar Rapids, Iowa is home to the oldest standing purpose-built mosque in America. In 1934, immigrants from modern-day Lebanon and Syria opened the mosque, as a house of worship for their growing community in and around Cedar Rapids — where thousands of Middle Eastern Muslims had settled.
Those same immigrants built the first Muslim cemetery in the U.S, which meant that Muslims from across the Midwest were buried for decades in Iowa. And in 1953, one of the “Cedar Rapids Muslims,” Abdallah Ingram, successfully petitioned President Dwight Eisenhower’s Pentagon to recognize Islam as a religion in the U.S. military, allowing Muslims in the military to have chaplains, and Muslims veterans to have religious funerals.
At any rate, it’s time now to start paying attention to New Hampshire, I guess, where the Diocese of Manchester is one of 12 U.S. dioceses to cover an entire state. Same for South Carolina, actually.
Anyway, here’s the news:
The women allege that while they were members of the Daughters of St. Paul, Fr. David Nicgorski manipulated and coerced them, allegedly assaulting one of them after years of being her spiritual director.
They say that the priest attempted to sexualize their prayer lives constantly, describing graphic sexual encounters with Jesus, and encouraging them to imagine the same in prayer. They allege that, at the same time, he became controlling, making himself the center of their religious life, and that he made frequently romantic overtures in spiritual direction, including unwanted hugs and other unwanted touches. One woman alleges that the conduct eventually became sexual assault.
For its part, the Apostolic See has prohibited the priest from offering spiritual direction for a period of five years. But the women say that’s not a just response.
And don’t forget what I wrote just last week in The Pillar Post — that the sexualization of spirituality is a serious red flag, which needs to be taken seriously.
Another bishop was exiled along with Álvarez, as were 14 priests and two seminarians.
Despite mounting international pressure for Nicaragua to release the bishop from prison, the move came as a surprise: The Pillar reported last month that Álvarez was in the past told to sign a blank confession before the possibility of exile was even considered for the bishop.
But the Holy See has reportedly been working behind the scenes to secure his release, and the U.S. State Department has also been pushing for it.
Observers on the ground say it’s unlikely, though, that Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega released Álvarez for nothing. And several Church-watchers say it seems that Ortega is after a China-type deal for Nicaragua, which would allow his government to approve the appointment of diocesan bishops, and to silence critics of his regime.
There are a few countries in which civil governments retain some say in the appointment of bishops — But whether the Holy See dangled that possibility in front of Ortega remains to be seen.
More news will be coming. Meanwhile, Álvarez and companions are said to be resting at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican residence where Pope Francis lives.
Bishop Saunders resigned in 2021 for “health reasons” from the Diocese of Broome, while he was being accused of abusing young Aboriginal men. The bishop is accused of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of Church funds on gifts for vulnerable teenagers and young men, including cash, phones, alcohol and travel, and of abusing some of them sexually.
Saunders was investigated by local police before, but that case was closed due to lack of evidence.
Police reopened the file after being handed a copy of an investigation conducted by the Church under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi — though the Australian bishops’ conference has previously stated that accusations against the bishop did not concern legal minors.
Last January, Archbishop Wolfgang Haas of Liechtenstein declined to celebrate an annually held Mass for the country’s legislature, because lawmakers had in late 2022 begun the process of legalizing same-sex marriage.
In September, Haas’ resignation was accepted as he turned 75, with an apostolic administrator appointed to lead the diocese.
That apostolic administrator now says that he will offer the customary Mass on Friday, to open the tiny country’s legislative session. The move is seen as a rather direct repudiation of the emeritus’ archbishop’s stand. And it leaves open questions about how the Church is changing in Liechtenstein — and what the next archbishop will do about the mess.
A seminary residence burned down last week in Nigeria — and with firefighters unavailable, seminarians helped fight the blaze, keeping it under control. While damage to the building is extensive, the seminary’s rector told The Pillar he is confident they can rebuild, and grateful no one was hurt.
Pope Francis assigned Cardinal Matteo Zuppi last year to serve as his peace envoy for Ukraine. The assignment has been mostly but out of the spotlight — but in an analysis last week, Luke Coppen argued that the Vatican’s initiative has been quietly effective, helping to achieve humanitarian breakthroughs for which it is unlikely ever to receive much recognition.
Is the Ukraine peace mission actually working? While it may not lead to the war’s end, it is certainly helping to get things done.
Most of the United States has been plunged in recent days into intense cold — in fact, my children don’t have school today, because of the sub-zero temperatures predicted for today in Colorado.
While everyone is trying to keep warm, for some, that’s pretty difficult. Which is why one Wisconsin parish helped its unused school building to become a shelter. The shelter has since become an important part of the parish, with regular bible studies and prayer services.
This is a short newsletter, readers, because — like I said — my kids are off from school today, and they’re hoping I’ll eat breakfast burritos with them. I’m sure you’ll understand.
But I’ll end with two invitations.
First, hundreds of thousands of Catholics and other believers will gather in Washington, DC, this week, for the annual March for Life. I had hoped to be with them but, believe it or not, I am still recovering from illness, and I’m not so sure the trip is a good idea. I really wish I could go, and I’m annoyed at being still sorta-sick.
But a lot of people have asked in recent weeks why — in a post-Dobbs universe — a national March for Life still takes place at all. They suggest it makes more sense to have statewide marches, given that abortion policy is now mostly a matter for individual states. I get that.
But it seems to me that the March for Life has two elements — demonstration and pilgrimage. The demonstration part had been about overturning Roe v. Wade, and now that’s happened. But there is still value in demonstrating the sheer number of Americans who support the right to life of unborn people, and demonstrating to the young people who participate that they are not alone in supporting an end to the horror of abortion.
Sure, there are oddballs at the March for Life, and people with troubling agendas, methodologies, or YouTube shows — but there are also a lot of very sincere people, who earnestly care about bringing an end to abortion, and about supporting mothers and families.
In that sense, the March for Life is formative.
I think for many young people, it’s also become formative as a kind of de facto pilgrimage — the experience is in the bus rides lasting two days, or the walking together through frigid temperatures.
For my money, I hope the March for Life will lean into the pilgrimage element of things, focusing especially on the value of offering up a trains-planes-and-automobiles type pilgrimage in reparation for sins against life in this country. With Roe overturned, one might wish that the walk would even culminate at the national basilica, rather than at the political edifices of the National Mall.
Of course, a lot of non-Catholics participate in the March for Life, and perhaps there is something to the ecumenical nature of a pro-life pilgrimage. But it does seem to me that if the March is to continue, it has two paths: it risks becoming partisan demagoguery focused only on electing the right politicians, or it can be elevated to something more — focused on the transcendent, and, for Catholics, on the efficacy of the cross.
I hope it does that. We need pilgrimage in this country, and we certainly need reparations for the myriad sins against life committed on our nation’s soil.
So the invitation is that you join me in praying for the people who will attend the March for Life, and especially that, in the act of a quasi-pilgrimage, they will more deeply encounter Christ.
Some of you know that Mrs. Flynn and I serve on the board of the FIRE Foundation, a non-profit which gives grants to ensure that kids with serious intellectual disabilities can be enrolled in Catholic schools. Last year, the foundation gave out more than $350,000, helping at least 36 kids with disabilities enroll in Catholic school (including my own.) This year, we hope to give out much, much more.
We’re having a winter fundraising event next month, which will be a lot of fun, and if you live in or near Colorado, I’d really like you to come. I’ll be the auctioneer, so you know it will be, at least, entertaining. And if you’d like to come, but you can’t afford the tickets, reach out to me and I’ll see what we can do.
In the meantime, stay warm.
If you like what The Pillar does — if you think our kind of reporting is important for the life of the Church, please help support it. We depend on you:
Please be assured of our prayers. And please pray for us. We need it.
Yours in Christ,