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Mawkish sentimentality, more to come, and the hardest part

Happy Friday, friends,

I hope your Thanksgiving was a true day of rest and gratitude. 

For my family, it was a day of many, many meats, though the planned ostrich leg failed to arrive in time. Instead, we smoked a turkey, pork belly, and most of a cow — if that seems like overkill for a single family, bear in mind that my “immediate” family now runs to more than 30 people.

Every year I wonder a little more at the size of our growing clan. Thirty-two is a fair number, and it was not so many years ago it was just the eight of us around the table. 

Thanksgiving can easily become a moment for mawkish sentimentality, and I don’t want to go in for any of that, though the abundant gift of life my family has received is something truly to give thanks for. 

Much more than sheer numbers, though, the real blessing of our family is that we were all there, and happy to be there. 

That’s by no means the default for many households, and “how to deal with that/those relative(s) at Thanksgiving” has become a whole subgenre of advice column among writers at this time of year.

That my brothers and sisters, their spouses and children, and our parents can all be in the same house is a blessing — that we all want to be there together is the true grace. Communion, in the family, among friends, in the Church, and in society in general, is the default human desire and expectation. But communion is, by no means, the default reality.

Loving each other, our family, our neighbors, our friends, our enemies, is what we are called to as Christians, no less than to love the God who loved us first. We — I —  should never take for granted the grace to do either, in whatever measure.

So, for those who love me, and for the love I have in my life, I am truly grateful this year. 

But enough mawkish sentimentality. It’s been a lighter week here at The Pillar because of the holiday, there’s still news to get through. 


The News

A rare moratorium on priestly ordinations seems set to be lifted after Pope Francis named a coadjutor bishop to the French Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon.

The diocese’s bishop, Dominique Rey, has turned the diocese into something of a radical experimental laboratory over the years — offering a home and a lot of leeway to communities of all kinds from all branches of the Church.

The result has been an explosion in priestly vocations, including from so-called “traditionalist” communities, but also questions about oversight and formation, which led to a Vatican-imposed moratorium on new ordinations in 2022.

Rey said he is “delighted” with the appointment of Bishop François Touvet, who has been given responsibility for the formation of seminarians and priests, administration, clergy management, and support for religious communities. 

What’s been going on in this diocese over the last 20 years is deeply interesting, since Rey has taken a pastoral approach of “let a thousand flowers bloom” to a level few bishops would ever consider. 

Rey sees the future of the French Church as a fusion of traditionalist and charismatic elements, sometimes described as a “tradismatic” vision and I, for one, will be fascinated to see what happens now that he has a coadjutor bishop.

Read all about it here.

Alex Crow, the Alabama priest who absconded with a teenager earlier this year has returned to the state and, according to local public records, attempted to marry the girl with whom he ran away.

Crow has been suspended from ministry ever since deserting his pastoral assignment and fleeing to Italy with an 18-year-old recent high school graduate whom, it was subsequently reported, he is accused of having groomed for some time prior — including when she was a canonical minor.

So, how fast is he likely to go from being a suspended cleric to being laicized — and by what process?

And is it possible that all this ends up with his marriage to the young woman being regularized or recognized by the Church at some point?

We have an explainer on the situation, and on the likely canonical next steps facing Crow, right here.

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Judges in Vatican City have said they expect to return a verdict in the case by Dec. 16. 

Given that lawyers for the defense are still making their cases, and are scheduled to keep doing so until at least Dec. 12, that strikes me as a very… bold ambition.

Apparently, the three-judge panel is confident in its ability to discuss all the evidence from a two-and-a-half-year case stemming from a 500-page indictment, come to a common decision on dozens of charges against 10 individual defendants and four accused companies, synthesize their findings, and write a comprehensive verdict, all within four days.

Either that, or perhaps they have already mostly made up their minds on the case before it’s formally over, and they don’t mind telling the world as much. 

The latter seems far more likely to me, though it doesn’t say anything great about how the wheels of justice turn in Vatican City. 

I’d have thought, given the enormous profile of the case and the international scrutiny it has brought to the Vatican City judicial system, the judges would want to very conspicuously take their sweet time in coming back with a final decision — I’ve been mentally allowing at least three months for deliberations, maybe as many as six.

But, it seems, the court has had enough and heard enough. “We are really at the end,” chief judge Giuseppe Pignatone said.

The thing is, I don’t think we are at the end. 

As I wrote in an analysis this week, even if the judges come back with a swift verdict, I see no likely prospect of this being the end of the Vatican financial scandal — or even of its litigation in court.

For a start, there will be appeals — probably by both prosecutors and defense lawyers, given the likelihood of a mixed decision. Then there are the connected lawsuits underway in other countries, and even in Vatican City itself.

All in all, I would say that even if Pignatone does manage to get a verdict back before Christmas, the New Year is only going to bring a new round of proceedings. And, depending on how Pignatone rules, we could actually see the scandal get much, much worse for the Vatican. 

You can read my whole analysis here.

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Just wait

Thanksgiving is now behind us, though the first Sunday of Advent is still more than a week away. As such, debate in our house has turned to the question of when, exactly, we will decorate the house for Christmas.

It’s a contentious issue, I know. 

Near where I live, I observed a man putting out his decorations on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I would hope we all agree that should be beyond the social pale.

There ought to be a law against this.

In our house we, some of us, like to decorate for Christmas, and we like it a lot. Consequently, the mood music turns festive quite quickly but I usually am able to forestall getting the tree until the second week of Advent.

There are those who take the harder line that the first two weeks of Advent are times of reflecting on and looking forward to the coming of Himself at the end of ages, and so halls should remain undecked until after Sunday 2, or Laetare Sunday, or until the time of the “O antiphons.”  I’m reliably informed that in Poland, the tree only gets decorated on Christmas Eve, which is hardline by anyone’s measure.

I have nothing but respect for those positions. The world needs to see from the Church, and from Christians, some time spent thinking — in a good way —  about the end of the world. 

We are not made for the here and now. We pass through this world as pilgrims, on our way to our place in eternity with Him who made us.

Our culture — obsessed as it is with its own moment, as if it is always the first and last chapter in history — treats discussion of the “end of the world” as the reserve of cranks and loonies. But in a world unraveling fast, full of war and hatred and general existential turmoil, being joyful, expectant witnesses to eternity is something profound, and urgently needed.

I think it also bears observing that one of the reasons Advent is increasingly celebrated as Christmas is that we simply can’t do anticipation anymore as a society. We need everything now, but, ironically, we cannot savor anything for more than a moment either. 

Waiting to decorate for Christmas makes a lot more sense, and seems a lot less dour, if you plan to celebrate properly for at least the full octave — we make a point of going festively hard for the full 12 nights and end with a big Epiphany bash. 

Yet, at least near where I live, it seems like most trees are down and out on the curb by New Year’s Day. 

The phenomena of being too quick to start and too soon to finish the celebration of Christmas can seem ironic, even paradoxical. But I think they are really two sides to the same coin. 

It’s a hackneyed theme to harp on about how stores loop through the holidays in a push to sell us seasonally branded tat months in advance of any particular day. 

Halloween stuff populates the shelves from around Labor Day, and Christmas sections of shops are up long before most jack-o’-lanterns have rotted out. About 30 seconds into the New Year, Valentine’s Day is being pushed, followed by Shamrock-themed everything, then the secular take on Easter, and so on, until the whole cycle reboots.

The general consensus is that this is all a commercial push to sell us stuff, but I think there’s a deeper and darker psychology behind why it works, why we buy it all. 

Secular society needs holidays, and absent any of its own, it debases Christian feasts, of course. But really driving the market, I think, is a kind of frantic existential panic, the need to be focusing on something next, to move instantly from one focus to another, anything to avoid the terrifying void that gapes at the center of a society without God and ignore the giant question about the purpose and meaning of our fleeting human existence. 

Ours is a culture that constantly demands the next thing to avoid thinking about the last things.

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The Church is still now in “ordinary time,” which society cannot abide —  a long period in which we give ourselves over to maturing and deepening our faith and relationship with God. 

“Ordinary time” doesn’t mean that there is nothing much going on — the phrase comes from the “ordinal” numbering of the weeks between the great feasts. The time is numbered, marked as it progresses, along with our lives, towards an end that arrives in its proper season. 

Ordinary time, as much as Advent, is a period of gathering expectation as we move toward the culmination of all things in the reign of Christ the King, whose feast arrives on Sunday.

All our lives, all of human history, the whole of creation are pointed toward this eventual climax which we are meant to witness to by our happy expectancy. The grace of patience to do so with a truly Christian disposition is an antidote to our wider culture, for whom the waiting — for anything — is the hardest part.

See you next week.

Ed. Condon
The Pillar 

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