It’s a beautiful autumnal Tuesday out there, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.
Actually, since summer ended officially on Saturday, this is the first autumnal Tuesday of the year. Get your pumpkin-spice-everything, my friends — the time has come.
As it happens, if you’re inspired this autumnal Tuesday to make a pumpkin spice cake, you can make it as a birthday cake for the late Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini — known better as Pope St. Paul VI.
Born on Sept. 26, 1897, Montini is a complex figure, but a hugely significant one for understanding the trajectory of the Church in the last five decades.
I think most especially under-appreciated is Paul VI’s Evangelii nuntiandi, which was a kind of authoritative blueprint, calling for Catholics to be missionaries, informed by the ecclesiology, missiology, vision, and aspirations of the Second Vatican Council.
The term “spirit of Vatican II” is ordinarily used by people who are trying to replace the texts of the ecumenical council with their own flimsy ideas — the folks who see Vatican II primarily in terms of an unfolding “event” rather than through its set of guiding and authoritative documents.
Usually, when someone says “spirit of Vatican II,” you should hold on to your wallet.
But it’s fair to say that Evangelii nuntiandi probably best represents the actual “spirit of Vatican II” — in the sense of its intensely Christocentric and missionary vision for the life of the Church.
Here’s what the pope wrote:
“Evangelization will also always contain - as the foundation, center, and at the same time, summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God's grace and mercy.”
“To evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to bear witness that in His Son God has loved the world - that in His Incarnate Word He has given being to all things and has called men to eternal life.”
In the Incarnate Word, God has called men to eternal life. We’re called to give witness to that, and to say it, as well as we can, in as many ways and places as we can.
The Lord calls us to nothing less.
Anyway, Happy Birthday, Paul VI. Pray for us.
First, let’s start with some good news.
Last week, we reported to you that a priest in Nigeria, Fr. Marcellinus Obioma Okide, was kidnapped as he traveled home to his parish last Sunday afternoon.
Fr. Okide is one of dozens of priests who’ve been abducted in Nigeria in recent months — and commercial kidnapping is on the rise in his diocese.
The Diocese of Enugu says that Catholics are thanking God for his return, and for his safety.
Of course, some of our readers were struck by the fact that the Enugu diocese would pay a ransom for the return of their priest — some ask whether that puts a dollar-shaped target on all clerics in Okide’s region of Nigeria.
As Americans, we’re accustomed to the firm maxim that our government does not negotiate with terrorists (at least when it comes to kidnapping). People on the ground in dangerous areas know that a firm stance like that is a rarity, that commercial kidnapping is a part of life in many parts of the world, and that you can even buy pretty good insurance for it, if you have the dough.
Still, I’m most reminded by the Fr. Okide’s ransom of the extraordinary ministry of St. Peter Nolasco, who in the 13th century gave his life to ransoming Christian captives who were kidnapped along the coast of North Africa — and who founded the Mercedarian religious order.
That kind of ransoming raises some interesting questions — and I hope we can do some good reporting on it in the future.
In Germany, the leaders of the country’s “synodal way” asked this summer for face-to-face talks with Pope Francis — while pushing for more deliberative lay leadership for the Church in Germany, for lay preaching of homilies, and for more study on the topic of ordaining women, among other things.
It is unclear whether the pope has responded to the letter. But the pope has responded to many of those issues already.
On the Rupnik beat, we reported an interesting development yesterday.
Sr. Ivanka Hosta, the superior of the religious community co-founded by Fr. Marko Rupnik, has been removed from her position, and ordered to live in a Portuguese convent, have limited contact with the members of her community, and to pray in reparation for the victims of abuse committed by Rupnik, according to Portuguese media.
The move is a dramatic sign of the internal turmoil in the Loyola Community of sisters — and a sign suggesting that Hosta, and possibly others, may have failed to adequately address complaints of Rupnik’s misconduct raised by sisters.
The decision was made by an auxiliary bishop of Rome, who has been given responsibility for oversight of the troubled community. His decree seems to stand in marked contrast to a recent statement from the cardinal vicar of the Roman diocese, who has called into question the prosecution of Rupnik (such as it is).
Here’s what is clear: despite efforts to the contrary, the Rupnik story is not going away quietly, and there is much more to be uncovered.
At The Pillar, we’ll continue to cover each development, as Catholics around the world call for accountability and transparency on a story of global importance for the Church.
When Bishop Rick Stika resigned from the Diocese of Knoxville in June, he said in a statement that he hoped to find “relief” from the responsibilities he experienced as a diocesan bishop.
But while Stika may now have found “relief,” many Catholics in the Knoxville diocese — including many of its priests — are still processing the circumstances of Stika’s departure
Soon after the bishop resigned, The Pillar talked with Fr. Brent Shelton, a senior Knoxville priest, about what happened in his diocese, and about what priests and bishops can learn from the Knoxville saga.
It’s a powerful conversation, about obedience, authority, and accountability. If you’re a priest or bishop, especially, don’t miss this conversation — but all Catholics, really, should read what Fr. Shelton has to say.
Here’s an excerpt:
“The promise of obedience places a very large burden upon a priest, which is fine. We’re all following Christ on the way of the Cross. But if you’re going to ask that of people, then the Church has a moral obligation to both explain what the promise is about, and to make very clear what the process is for addressing concerns about the potential abuse of that problem.”
“There’s very little a presbyterate can do if there are problems. There’s no one who can intervene. The person who can investigate a bishop is the pope, and none of us have the pope’s cell phone number.”
“The nature of corruption is that it pulls other people into it. So this is about more than just a bishop. When a bishop is a narcissist, for example, or when there is failed leadership in a diocese, there becomes a circle of people who take advantage of that for their own purposes. For that reason, we need to make sure our clergy have a clear understanding of what the difference is between sin and corruption.”
Now, if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t know much about rugby. The sport was introduced at my alma mater while I was a student there, and the roster was filled out by a combination of exceedingly polite pre-theologians, alongside some of the most delightful beer-swilling party animals that Steubenville could field.
But apparently, they’ve got a whole World Cup for the thing. And in France, they’ve also got a rugby chapel: unofficially dubbed the Church of Notre Dame du Rugby, it is a medieval church renovated in the 1950s to remember some young “ruggers” killed in a car accident.
You don’t see rugby-themed stained glass like this everyday:
As you already know, you only find stuff like this at The Pillar.
And hey, it’s not rugby, but here’s a cool video of a football long snapper hitting some pretty good trick shots.
These are the best two minutes you’ll ever spend watching a long snapper — the tricks just keep getting cooler:
Let me mention a quick bit of housekeeping:
At The Pillar Podcast, we've decided to start letting the microphones run for a while after we finish taping each episode — we're releasing those conversations as weekly bonus episodes for our paying subscribers.
The bonus episodes are shows about nothing, but if you like the banter, well, here’s another 30 minutes or so each week — sometimes serious conversation, sometimes just rating ’80s cartoons, like we did this week.
If you’re a subscriber, you can listen to the first bonus episode here, where you can also find an easy walkthrough, to set things up so that subscriber-only shows come straight to your normal podcast app.
The ‘Pachamama moment’
Finally, the Diocese of Rome has organized this upcoming weekend a kind of ecumenical summit, to take place ahead of the synod on synodality, which opens for deliberations in early October. The ecumenical summit will culminate with an ecumenical prayer vigil on Saturday.
I’m mentioning this because I expect it is the first place where the synod on synodality might be distracted by something I’m calling the “Pachamama moment.”
Here’s what I mean: The 2019 synod on the Amazon was a gathering with a lot of things going on, and — in my view — a lot of important conversation happening inside the synodal hall.
But you recall, if you follow the Church even a little bit, how much that synod was defined by the presence of wooden statues of pregnant women, dubbed “Pachamama,” which first made their appearance at a prayer gathering — and tree planting — with Pope Francis in the Vatican gardens.
The statues were alternatively described as symbols of the Blessed Virgin, the Andean pagan idol Pachamama, and ambiguous symbols of "life."
You know the history of everything that happened thereafter — how the statues continued appearing at Vatican events, how much pushback there was against them, and how they were eventually stolen and tossed into the Tiber River.
You might even remember that an official of the synod gave remarks to the media which seemed to convey indifference toward even the question of whether the statues might have pagan symbolism.
I wrote at the time — and I continue to maintain — that the problem with the statues is that the Holy See was woefully unprepared to answer questions about them, or that it expressed hostility toward journalists who asked, or gave competing and conflicting answers.
As you know, I always assume that incompetence explains much more in the Church than does malice.
And it seems to me that in 2019, someone probably introduced the statues innocently, or at least without much forethought, believing that they resembled the Blessed Virgin Mary. There probably was very little discussion of it, and the Holy See was probably caught flatfooted when people began asking pointed questions.
But it became clear how powerfully those statues derailed the Vatican’s own communications plan for the synod — and how quickly they became a kind of totemic symbol for the mistrust that many people had about the “real agenda” of the synod on the Amazon.
I wonder now whether the Holy See has learned its lesson.
In truth, the synod on synodality has become in recent years decidedly more controversial than was the synod on the Amazon. The synod has become a referendum on Pope Francis, with his biggest supporters making outlandish and outsized claims about the significance of the synod, and his biggest skeptics echoing them— one side claiming the synod will forever change the Church, and the other side finding itself in agreement.
The synod is a meeting, or a series of meetings. It is not an ecumencial council. It actually has less authority than a diocesan finance council.
It is a meeting.
People have brought agendas to that meeting, and there are lots of stated plans to steer it in directions well beyond its stated purpose. A fair number of people hope the meeting will be an opportunity to convince the pope to adopt their agendas and priorities.
And people have put a lot of expectations on that meeting — with some expecting it to be their shining moment of triumph, and others expecting it to be the meeting that ends everything.
Neither of those things is quite true. But the synod on synodality has had a lot of build-up, and is the source of extraordinary anxiety and anticipation — merited or not — for many people in the life of the Church.
Every move will be carefully scrutinized. Every prayer will be dissected. Every statue will be analyzed.
And still, I am expecting there will be some “pachamama moment,” when a liturgy or prayer gathering adopts some controversial symbol — and I expect that could well happen at the ecumenical prayer vigil on Saturday.
It seems to me that the lesson of 2019 is for the Holy See’s press office to be prepared to say: “We understand why people are asking questions, and we’re getting answers,” or even, “this wasn’t part of our official plans,” or “we should have thought this through better.”
When controversy inevitably emerges, that kind of candor — or any kind of candor — would go a long way toward building trust in the pontiff’s magnum opus.
But will it actually happen? Or will the press office obfuscate, and push back on anybody asking: “What does that symbol/statue/song/vestment actually mean?”
I suspect we’ll find out soon.
Have a happy autumnal Tuesday.
Please be assured of our prayers.
And please pray for us. We need it.
Yours in Christ,