Happy Friday friends,
Pope Francis is in Iraq. It is an historic trip, in the proper sense of the term. The region is home to Catholic communities far older than the name “Iraq,” or the concept of a nation state, and the suffering of that people as they try to hold on to their ancient homes is truly worthy of our every attention and effort of support.
Many popes, including St. John Paul II, longed to make the trip Francis is currently on. Frankly, I wish I was there with him. If you want to know a bit more about the history of the Church in Iraq, I can heartily recommend this book on the subject, written by Cardinal Filoni - formerly JPII’s nuncio to Iraq and prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Yes, I translated it for him; no, I don’t get royalties. It’s just a good book I have read more than once.
Closer to home, it has been a fairly big news week:
On Wednesday, we reported that the Archdiocese of Washington has set aside just over $2 million for the “continuing ministry” of the retired Cardinal Donald Wuerl. It’s an eye-catching figure, more so set next to the archdiocese’s $37 million-odd unfunded pension liability.
The archdiocese declined to answer questions for the story, but it did put out a statement in response on Thursday. The archdiocese said the funds had been given especially to fund Cardinal Wuerl’s living costs and charitable priorities by donors “who did not want to have the Archdiocese burdened with these expenses.” But that raises some additional questions: Read here.
This is the sort of reporting we aimed to give ourselves time for when we set up The Pillar. We think it is important and worth supporting, and we are grateful to those of you who have signed up as subscribers - and if you’re able to so, please consider it.
Also this week, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican department that vets and recommends candidates for episcopal office. Tobin is now the third American member of the congregation, joining Cardinal Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Robert Prevost, also of Chicago but currently serving in Peru.
Between them, these three bishops are likely to shape the future of the future of the U.S. episcopate for a fair few years to come.
The trouble now facing the Archdiocese of Washington this week is this: the fund earmarked for Wuerl’s expenses came from money which, according to the archdiocese’s audited financial statements, had “no donor-imposed restrictions.” But on Thursday, the archdiocese said the money came from donors for the express purpose of supporting Cardinal Wuerl.
This sets up something of a contradiction. Either the diocese was free to allocate the money as it wished, and chose to set it aside for Cardinal Wuerl - as its own financial statements indicate - or the money was expressly donated for Wuerl’s discretionary use, as the archdiocesan statement says. But it cannot be both.
Beyond the potential legal implications of this contradiction, there is a broader question of public credibility.
The archdiocese has declined repeatedly to answer simple questions about what, if any, “continuing ministry” Cardinal Wuerl exercises in Washington, and how the money intended for this ministry is being spent.
Given the size of the fund, and the financial hardship facing many parishes and other Catholic institutions in the archdiocese, it’s not unreasonable, still less disloyal, for Catholics to ask where the money is going and why.
None of this is to assume Cardinal Wuerl has done anything less than praiseworthy with the fund. For all we know, he may well have used the whole sum to prop up struggling Catholic institutions in the archdiocese during the pandemic — I sincerely hope he has.
But, as should be screamingly obvious to the Archdiocese of Washington, of all places, the days of fobbing off questions about a retired cardinal’s personal piggy bank, however charitably oriented it may be, are well and truly over.
For many, 2018 and the McCarrick scandal seem like a lifetime ago. For some, it seems, it has been long enough to forget some of the most obvious lessons learned in Washington during that year, if they were ever learned in the first place.
Cuomo and the culture of death
The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has not had a brilliant start to the year.
The formerly best-selling author became something of a media darling last year by affecting an Action Man demeanor during the first wave of the coronavirus. Cuomo took to wearing a leather jacket to press conferences and jabbing his finger at people in a manner some journalists, not all of them related to him, found presidential. But 2021 has been less kind.
First, it emerged that his administration worked to suppress the true number of deaths caused by his ordering nursing homes to take in covid positive patients at the height of the pandemic.
The effects of that order, which turned care homes into charnel houses, were widely reported in the Catholic press at the time, even as they were dismissed by the governor’s office and ignored by large sections of the secular press, not all of them related to him.
Now, a growing line of young women have come forward with complaints of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment against the governor, further tarnishing his star.
Cuomo himself has waived the allegations away, like so many thousands of nursing home deaths, while some in the media, not all of them related to him, have expressed shock at the accusations. But, without taking a view on the credibility of any of the specific allegations against Cuomo, I must say I was not surprised.
Before his much-praised “leadership” during the pandemic, Cuomo’s signature achievement was, in 2019, signing into law one of the most expansive abortion laws in the nation, protecting the right to kill an unborn child up to the moment of birth for, essentially, any reason or none at all. Cuomo, a Catholic, ordered the New York City skyline lit up in pink as a celebration of his achievement.
It is not surprising, to me at least, that the kind of person who would celebrate such contempt for unborn life, and who would stack his reputation for “leadership” by suppressing the number of lives lost through his pandemic policies, might also be the sort of person who didn’t have all that much respect for the dignity of young women.
Politics is full of men who are, some tacitly, some explicitly, willing and able to suborn the humanity of others to pursue their own ends. In the culture of death, the only life that counts is your own. It is, to borrow a phrase, a seamless garment: unborn children, young women, or the elderly infirm, none of them matter next to the pursuit of power and its exercise.
Last season’s heroes, next year’s students
I mentioned last week that Lent is, as much as a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, a time of preparation, of anticipation, even. We are, of course, looking forward to Easter as the axis of our calendar. But, especially after the year we have had, we are also collectively looking ahead to the return of more quotidian things.
Baseball has returned, and that is important. I state that simply as fact. But many other vital institutions are groping their way back to daily life, not least schools. Some weeks ago, we ran an interesting piece on how the pandemic has affected enrollment in Catholic schools, which are, in many cases, the very front line of the Church’s mission to evangelize; a mission which surely extends to our own children.
In this vein, I was recently made aware of something which brings together the three important institutions of almsgiving, baseball, and Catholic schools. Next week, a friend of ours in the Archdiocese of St. Paul - Minneapolis, Fr. John Ubel, is doing something very cool indeed.
Fr. Ubel is possessed of a very, very enviable collection of some 2,000 baseball cards including — wait for it — rookie cards for Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. He also has some real pearls for other players like, you know, Mickey Mantle, Nolan Ryan, and Rod Carew. He is auctioning off the 50 most valuable online next week, the auction opens Friday and closes Sunday.
All the money raised is going to Aim Higher, a charity which provides $1,000 scholarships to Catholic schools for local kids from low income families. This year they handed out nearly two thousand scholarships.
If you love baseball, if you love Catholic schools, or even if you just want a way to channel your almsgiving this Lent, I cannot recommend this cause highly enough. For my own part, I am sure to be bidding, torn between hoping I can pick up a prize and hoping I get left in the dust by the generosity of other, better funded, fans.
See you next week, and stay in school kids,