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McCarrick's trial, prayers for Alta Fixsler, and money talks

Happy Friday Friends,

Please allow me to begin with a welcome to new readers of The Pillar and a thank you to new subscribers. Welcome.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, we took a break from our normal Pillar Post format to publish a series of stories which we believe to be important to the life of the Church. 

We are now shifting back to our normal rhythm, so you will be hearing from me (Ed) on Friday and from JD on Tuesday, bringing you a roundup of our work at The Pillar and offering our thoughts on, well, the things we are thinking about.

So, here are some things you might have missed in the last few days.

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Mr McCarrick Goes to Court?

Yesterday brought a surprise return to the news for the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The Boston Globe was first to report that McCarrick, who was laicized in 2019 after a series of allegations involving the sexual abuse of minors and adults stretching back decades, is now facing criminal charges in the state of Massachusetts for a series of alleged assaults on a 16-year old in the 1970s.

McCarrick has not faced trial in any civil jurisdiction before, primarily because the statute of limitations has run out on many of the crimes he is alleged to have committed, so this new case offers the prospect of the 91-year old former cardinal finally having a day in court, aside from his Vatican penal administrative process.

There are lots of questions about this case, what it might mean canonically, and where McCarrick has been for the last few years. You can read our explainer here.


Money talks

This week also saw the first day of the long-awaited trial in the Vatican financial scandal. After a two-year investigation by prosecutors, lawyers for and against the ten defendants finally met in a specially constructed courtroom. None of the lay people facing charges appeared in person, but the two clerics on trial, Cardinal Angelo Becciu and Msgr. Mauro Carlino, did.

The seven-hour session was spent mostly on lawyers trading procedural salvos, with the key fact to emerge from the day being that Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, who worked closely with Becciu and Carlino for years at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, presented himself as a cooperating witness to authorities, essentially a whistleblower, and did not “flip” under interrogation while facing charges himself.

Perlasca has apparently given hours of taped testimony to the prosecution to help them build a case that involves several former senior Vatican officials and a constellation of fascinating characters who helped them “invest” the Holy See’s money for years.

On the day the trial began, Becciu announced he’s now suing Perlasca for defamation, a likely indicator of the kind of bitter finger-pointing we can expect when the trial resumes in October. Quite apart from the internal stakes for the Vatican’s financial and judicial credibility, there are a lot of men, with a lot of money, who have a lot riding on this trial and they are not likely to defer to a curial culture of deference and institutional preservation.

You can read our summary of what we expected here, and what we learned from the first day in court here.

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Pray for Alta Fixsler

This week, we also covered the case of Alta Fixsler, a two-year-old girl born prematurely and with severe brain damage in 2018 and who is on life support in a UK hospital. Her parents want to seek treatment for her outside the country as doctors seek to withdraw the care keeping her alive. 

Alta, Chaya, and Abraham Fixsler. Credit: The Chesed Fund

The UK doctors say they believe Alta has no quality of life and it is in her own best interests that she be allowed to die. Her parents, Abraham and Chaya, object on religious grounds, citing their belief as Hassidic Jews that human life should be preserved at all costs. Alta’s parents both have Israeli citizenship, and her father is also a U.S. citizen. 

Doctors in Israel have offered continuing care for Alta, but a UK judge has ruled that he is “not satisfied that those spiritual benefits are sufficient to outweigh the additional burden of pain that would be placed on Alta by a transfer," meaning her parents are legally prevented from taking her out of the hospital which has determined to terminate her life support. 

Now the U.S. State Department has gotten involved, and issued a visa for Alta, but that may not be enough. 

Read the whole thing here.

Faith by the numbers

Well worth your time is an analysis published this week from Brendan Hodge, looking at generational trends in religious belief and weekly practice.

As you would probably guess, each successive generation in the United States is believing in God and practicing their faith at a lower rate than the one before. What is interesting, and what Brendan teases out of the data, is what happens within each generational cohort. Belief in, and identification with, the religion you’re born into takes a steep hit among Catholics, especially when compared to Protestants, but Mass attendance remains relatively constant (at a much lower rate) within each generation.

What does this mean? Well, it seems to point to the crucial importance of parents passing on the faith to their children, since sacramental habits formed young seem to stick. Read the whole thing.

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Maybe the feast of St. Bridget of Sweden passed you by last week, it rather did for me, there was a lot going on. But, in addition to being a mystic, visionary, mother of eight, widow, and founder of a religious order, she gifted the Church an extraordinary devotion in the form of a “novena” that lasts 12 years.

Many of us, me, struggle to keep up the nine days of a standard novena devotion, so going for more than a decade is quite the spiritual lift. But on the other hand, the graces promised include that no soul in four successive generations of your family will be lost, so there’s that. 

Read all about it here, and ask yourself: is there a better use of the next 12 years, really?

Old Mass, New Normal

Still very much in the news this week has been the still-settling fallout of Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis custodes. Many, even most, bishops we have seen, at least in the U.S. have opted to punt on the issue of how to apply the new, much more tightly defined regulations for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. 

The general trend so far has been for bishops to take a “wait and see how it shakes out” approach, allowing current provisions to remain in place while they study and prayerfully reflect on the pope’s new norms and how best to bring them into practice. Last week, JD and I wrote about how “study” and “prayerful reflection” are the sort of things that often linger in diocesan chanceries with no end in sight. Sometimes, that’s even by design. 

There are lingering questions about the new law, and the meaning and intention of some provisions, like the bar on EF celebrations in “parochial churches,” how quickly and coherently those are identified, and clarified, will play a big role in ushering in the “new normal” for the Extraordinary Form.

But if many bishops are taking a cautious wait-and-see approach, not all of them are. And the Pope’s decision to radically revise the provisions for the old style of the Mass has not been without its critics — even strident episcopal critics. Yesterday, JD took a look at some of them and parsed out the differences between those raising loaded questions and those outright calling for priests to disregard the authority of the pope and their own bishops.

Communion with the Church comes in three kinds: of faith, of sacraments, of hierarchy. When Catholics break with any one of these, they risk falling into the practical state of schism. It is hard to imagine a situation more bitterly ironic than Catholics falling out of communion with each other over the Mass, the source and summit of our Christian life, but that’s likely where we are headed. 

Read the whole thing here.

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Who is thy neighbor?

As those of you who have been reading this newsletter for a while know, I don’t tend to watch a lot of television and almost no TV news, it’s just not my medium. Nevertheless, a clip from Fox & Friends came across my radar yesterday and it seemed to merit comment.

Now fair warning, I don’t know the names of the people in this clip because I have never seen the show before - my awareness of Fox & Friends is limited to press releases from members of Congress telling me they are going on it. 

Anyway, during a discussion on the situation at the U.S. southern border, one of the hosts, maybe he’s supposed to be Fox, maybe he’s one of the friends, I don’t know, offers the following:

“By the way, if you’re a Catholic and giving money to Catholic Charities in America, weren’t ya hoping it was going to help Americans, not other people from other countries who come here to America illegally?”

Well, no, Fox, I wasn’t, since you asked, I wasn’t.

At this point one of the other hosts (perhaps she is Fox?) clarifies that she thinks it’s because of “our government giving money to Catholic Charities” (nice bit of social distancing there) and opines that the Catholic charitable work on the border is, essentially, just a profit center being used to offset declining contributions from the faithful, which she blames on Pope Francis “not inspiring a lot of people to go to Church.”

Honestly, I really don’t watch cable news and had assumed I wasn’t missing much, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the Know-Nothing daytime chat hour.

Anyway, Fox (1) rounds off the exchange by asking “Is Catholic Charities ethically challenged?” Ethically challenged. For providing food, water, shelter, medicine, and so on to people at the border. “Yes. Yes,” responds Fox (2). 

At this point, the Foxes’ friend chimes in to point out that this is nothing new, and Catholic Charities has been doing this work for years. “I did not know that,” says Fox (1). “They kept it from me.”

Anyway, why do I draw your attention to these particular 46 seconds of what I am assuming is perfectly representative cable TV news? Only to observe that if we have indeed become so politicized that the literal feeding of the hungry and clothing of the naked is now not just controversial for the Church to do but “ethically challenged,” we are far worse off as a society than I imagined.

Pope Francis does speak often about the suffering and human dignity of migrants, rightly so, and the U.S. bishops have been unanimous — for years — in their calls for more humane treatment of arrivals on the southern border. The pope has also, it’s worth noting, affirmed that countries have a right to borders and to a border policy consonant with natural justice. But none of this seems to be getting across, at least on daytime TV.

Catholics can, should, apparently must, have something more to say to and about a society with this little grasp of what, and who, the Church’s charity (which means love, after all) is for.

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See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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