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Rightsizing, a Texas showdown, and Mr. Windsor goes to Washington

Happy Friday friends,

It’s been a long week in The Pillar offices, and there’s a lot of news to cover from pretty much everywhere. Maybe you’re having something of a long week, too.

But before I get started on the news, I want to pick your brain about something.

We are, as I’ve often said, very grateful we have the opportunity to cover the Church we love as journalists, and to do it as an apostolate, focused especially on ecclesial reform and public accountability — with some stories of hope along the way. The Pillar is a gift for our team.

But these days, we’re trying to make some decisions about how much Pillar is the right amount, if you will.

When we started, JD and I set the goal of not yoking ourselves to the rolling news cycle — the two of us couldn’t possibly cover everything, and we wanted to focus on the longer, deeper-dive stuff that interests you, and, we think, serves the Church best.

We’ve gotten bigger since then, with Michelle and Luke joining us full-time, and our extended team of contributors, but we’re still holding ourselves to that goal, as best we can. We don’t ever want you reading something at The Pillar you could just as well read somewhere else — we’re not aiming at clicks for clicks’ sake. 

If we don’t have new information, or a better handle on the deeper context of what’s going on, we don’t want to just be churning out copy and content for the sake of it. And for everything else, Luke’s daily Starting Seven pretty much covers everything you need to know — or at least everything I need to know.

But even so, more important news keeps coming and we’ve got decisions to make. Right now, to make The Pillar work, JD and I pretty usually work 12-hour days, and the rest of the team is not far behind that.

At the same time, we have really important news coming in from so many great contributors on the ground in places like Ukraine, Latin America, and Nigeria, that there’s not really a minute to waste. 

And right now, we see some important things coming for the life of the Church. Our instinct is to grow our team, to add more reporting and some more editing help, to see The Pillar do more serious coverage of the things which matter in the life of the Church — especially because we see a real demand for public accountability journalism, and we can only do so much of it. 

But — is more growth for The Pillar sustainable? Is it a good idea?

We aren’t totally sure. We’re behind on our subscriber goals — and that makes me shy about betting big on more coverage. 

We also can’t sustain our current personal pace forever — so do we grow our newsroom to increase output, or do we “right-size” our coverage footprint? Are either of those really viable possibilities?

We love this job, and, more to the point, we think we are serving God’s Church through doing it. But if you’re a subscriber, you’re a part of this community, too. So we want to give you a peek behind the scenes of some decisions we’ve got to make, because we want to hear from you. 

So, the choice for us is this: Should we just go for it, and see if we can make The Pillar a bigger operation with more news coverage, or do we take a breath and think about “rightsizing” to a level we can live with as a small, focused, dedicated team.

How much growth is sustainable? How much growth do we want? How big of a Pillar does the Church need? 

Of course, it’s in the hands of Providence — but we’ve got to make some strategic and tactical plans along the way. This is what we’re trying to assess.

Right now, I’ve got some ideas, JD’s got some ideas, some of them are aligned, some of them aren’t. And we need to pray about all of them.

But I want to know what you think. 

Substack has this messaging forum which seems to work like a private chat feature, which we use just for subscribers. I’ll be starting a thread there, so please let me know what you think. 

And if you’re not a paying subscriber but have thoughts, you can always email us. Though it’d be a lot cooler if you just became a subscriber.

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It would speak louder than words, too. 

The News

Bishop Michael Olson has dismissed the superior of a Texas Carmelite monastery from her religious order, in the latest development in his ongoing showdown with the convent.

The Diocese of Fort Worth issued a statement Thursday explaining that Olson had found Mother Teresa Agnes (Gerlach) of Jesus Crucified to be guilty of “having violated the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth,” and expelled her from the Discalced Carmelites.

The bishop’s decision, which is already being appealed to Rome, came barely 24 hours after the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (DICLSAL) granted him “full governing power” over the Carmel and sanated his previous (disputed) canonical investigation into the superior’s supposed admission to sexual misconduct.

Olson has also told the nuns he will now reinstate their access to daily Mass and confessions, having previously told them they would be denied both until they dropped a civil lawsuit against him, seeking the return of property seized by the bishop during his investigation into the superior, and asking a court for a restraining order against the him.

There is almost no part of this story that doesn’t raise a lot of questions: 

As we reported last week, the circumstances of the now-former prioress’ supposed admission to some kind of sexual misconduct are, to put it mildly, fiercely disputed — with no word whatsoever on the priest supposedly involved.

And even assuming the misconduct to have happened, there has been no clarity at all about what canonical crime, exactly, the convent’s superior is meant to have committed, or on what legal basis Bishop Olson took it upon himself to investigate the autonomous religious house. 

While Rome did grant him some kind of decree of authority on Wednesday, appointing him “Pontifical Commissary” for the convent, that decree actually got the name of the monastery wrong, and had a three-year-old protocol number attached to it, suggesting that whatever is going on between the bishop and the nuns, it predates any alleged admission by the superior last December.

I’d also note that the decree was signed and dated the on day Olson made it public, May 31. In all my years as a canon lawyer and a journalist working with Roman dicasteries, I cannot recall ever seeing a decree be signed in Rome, communicated to a diocese in another country, and put out for public release on the same day. 


And the decree was signed by the dicastery’s secretary, not its prefect, which is allowed, but not exactly typical on a matter like this. 

Nothing about this story adds up. For the moment.

In the meantime, I’ve seen a lot of extremely heated reactions to all these developments, almost all of them viscerally negative about Bishop Olson. 

I can see that some of his actions don’t look great — suspending daily Mass and confessions for a house of cloistered nuns as retaliation for a lawsuit does seem to a lot of people like “weaponizing the Eucharist,” to borrow a phrase some bishops like to use. 

And I have absolutely no understanding of how, on the available facts, yesterday’s decree of dismissal for the former superior could possibly have followed a legitimate canonical process.

Things would be a lot easier for us to report, and probably go a lot easier for Bishop Olson in terms of public opinion, if he’d offer some kind of account for his actions and thought process in all of this. But I understand that there might be real reasons he feels he cannot speak publicly about any of this right now. 

On the other hand, the Fort Worth diocese does seem to be doing its best to fuel the fire of public interest and indignation here, putting out decrees and statements related to the case on an almost daily basis — none of which make total sense, and all of which raise serious questions they aren’t prepared to answer. 

If the bishop can’t speak publicly about the case, and the diocese doesn’t consider it to be a public matter, it’s an odd way of proceeding

But all that tells me is there is something, probably a big something, we don’t yet know about this story and it’s far too soon to leap to the conclusion that the bishop must be on some kind of Vatican-backed demented personal power trip against a house of poor little nuns. 

To be clear, I’m not saying that whatever it is we don’t yet know will necessarily justify Bishop Olson’s actions — it could do the opposite. But, for the moment, I’m more interested in getting the whole story so I can make sense of this.

You can get yourself up to date here, and we’ll bring you more as soon as we know it.


The Holy See accepted the resignation of the Bishop of Jalandhar, India, yesterday. No official reason was given for Bishop Franco Mulakkal’s resignation, despite his being only 59 and in apparently good health.

As Luke Coppen reported, the reasons for the resignation were somewhat clearer in India, where the bishop had stood trial for the rape of a religious sister and been acquitted, than in Rome. 

While the apostolic nuncio in the country has made clear he and the Vatican “respect” the court’s decision to acquit the bishop, it was also the Vatican’s opinion that the bishop had to go. 

The nunciature issued a letter yesterday saying that while the bishop isn’t under any kind of penalty, Mulakkal’s resignation had been requested to resign “for the good of the Church,” so that the diocese could move on from the scandal of his case.

You can read about it here.

A Catholic priest was sworn in Monday for a four-year term as governor of Nigeria’s Benue State.

Dressed in a Roman collar and black suit, Fr. Hyacinth Alia took the oath of office in the state capital of Makurdi and then promised to make security his top priority as governor, and “working with security agencies and the federal government to ensure the safety of lives and property in our state.”

We’ve carried a lot of reporting on the violence facing the country’s Christian population, and the central government’s apparent indifference and refusal to act. But you might be wondering how it is possible that a priest ran for and was elected governor when there is a general ban by the Church on clerics seeking and holding public office.

Well, in fact, Alia may still dress and present himself as a cleric in good standing, but he’s been in hot water with his bishop ever since entering the race last year, and he has been suspended from ministry.

It’s a very interesting situation. Read all about it.

New census figures in Ireland show that the percentage of the country who consider themselves Catholic has fallen by 10% since 2016.

But behind that rather grim headline figure are some nuances that need to be unpacked, and Luke Coppen spoke to several experts about the census this week — including the Archbishop of Dublin.

Ireland is secularizing fast, there’s no getting away from that. And the Church’s long history of scandal in the country has certainly helped to drive that trend. But there are other forces at work, and they are worth understanding.

Read the whole report.

Friend of The Pillar (and Washington Nationals pitcher) Trevor Williams made headlines this week when he put out a statement criticizing the LA Dodgers’ decision to re-invite the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” to be honored at the team’s Pride Night in a few weeks.

Williams’ statement calling out the apparent hypocrisy of the Dodgers in inviting the group, whose whole schtick is mocking the Catholic Church, got a lot of attention. And while some of the responses have been supportive or sincere engagements with his arguments, others have been predictably splenetic.

We spoke with Williams yesterday about why he made his statement, what it means for everyone to be welcome at a ballpark, and what it is to be a witness for the faith in a public role.

It’s a good conversation, and you can read the whole thing here.

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Mr. Windsor goes to Washington

I notice that the Duke of Sussex is facing a legal challenge to have his U.S. immigration files unsealed, with a D.C. court set to hear the lawsuit next week. 

Now, I am no fan of feckless princlings or narcissistic Californians, and it seems to me Harry is both at this point. And I do always enjoy seeing an Old Etonian come a cropper. But I have to admit the details of the case give me the yucks.

I had assumed the lawsuit was some grotty little tabloid stunt by the New York Post or something. But it's the Heritage Foundation, of all people, who are suing “in the public interest” to unseal Hal’s immigration files to check for special treatment or false statements, since he’s routinely admitted to drug taking as he wanders the globe hawking the details of his private life to fund his royal excesses in exile.

I’m sorry, but I think it’s a rather sad and sophomoric thing for Heritage to be doing with its time and money. Is there really nothing of more pressing concern to our national life that might require serious and sober attention, or even litigation, than that time Harry did mushrooms with the annoying girl from Friends?

And I’m more than a little disappointed that in the DOJ’s filings for the case Harry is deferentially referred to as “Prince Harry” throughout. The Duke of Sussex is no longer a working royal. He’s surrendered the style “His Royal Highness,” so it’s not a question of recognizing him as a cadet functionary of a foreign head of state. 

I’d have hoped the officials of our Republic would have treated him with less bowing and scraping, since he apparently wants to make his home among us as one of the hoi polloi, and called him simply “Henry Windsor.”

Of course, this isn’t to say there aren’t real questions about him having received special treatment, or perhaps having lied about his drug taking on his green card application. But a cause this silly, petulant, and unserious should be litigated in a venue equal in character to the task.

Am I mad, or is this a job for the U.S. House of Representatives?

See you next week.

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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