Happy Friday friends,
I’ve been, as you know, in Rome this week. I’m writing this mid-flight.
JD suggested that I give myself the week off and just pack the newsletter with tourist pictures, but I didn't take any this trip. It’s been something of a flying visit, unfortunately — more of an Italian Job than a Roman Holiday. There are, at last count, at least half a dozen friends I didn't get to see this time around, and I am deeply sorry about that.
If I wasn’t following on from a previous trip to Denver last week and we weren’t riding right up against the USCCB meeting on Monday, I’d have stayed longer. I’ll be back in the New Year for a proper visit, I promise.
A few readers planning trips to Rome emailed me this week asking for food recommendations, though I am not sure what makes me an expert. And I did manage to get in a few decent meals while I was here — one old friend took me to a hole-in-the-wall Eritrean place which was an unexpectedly excellent answer to jet lag.
In general, I only really have three rules for Roman dining. Number one is obvious: ordering pizza in Rome is a waste of a meal. I’m not saying you can’t find a good pizza in the city. I’m just saying it’s a waste.
The second is that I judge every trattoria by its tripe. Roman tripe is a thing. Not everyone likes it, including Romans, and if done badly it is like eating chopped tube socks. But done well, it’s a testament to the magic a properly good chef can work — and trippa alla romana is a hell of a trick to be able to pull off.
Finally, if you’re picking a restaurant blind, you can usually (not always) pick a relative winner by their name using this formula: female name (Costanza) > male name (da Enzo) > family member (Grandma’s) > place/generic name.
Never, ever, eat at a place named after something a tourist might be tempted to photograph. Trattoria colosseo? Just go to McDonald’s.
The scandal of Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard continued to unfold this week.
The cardinal, a member of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith for 16 years is now facing a preliminary investigation by French prosecutors after he admitted to abusing a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago.
The 78-year-old former president of the French bishops’ conference publicly admitted on Monday to behaving “in a reprehensible way” toward the girl when he was a pastor in the Archdiocese of Marseille in the late 1980s.
Also this week, bishops of France backed the beatification of Marie-Eustelle Harpain, the “angel of the Eucharist” at their plenary assembly at Lourdes this week.
The meeting was, understandably, overshadowed by the scandal surrounding Cardinal Ricard, But while seeking justice is essential, of course, we can’t let the worst of the Church’s human failings block out the bright lights of faith.
We are now on Day 261 since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the country continues to suffer human casualties among the military and civilian population, who face the shelling of Ukrainian towns and villages.
In his dispatch this week, our Ukrainian correspondent Anatolii Babynskyi writes that, amid the targeting of the country’s energy infrastructure, industrial facilities, and residential buildings, there are also now cases in which Ukrainian churches seem to have been deliberately destroyed.
In the occupied territories, religious leaders who have not fled are persecuted — sometimes brutally — by Russian efforts to see them cooperate with the occupation.
I increasingly hear people, smart people, friends of mine, talk about the situation in Ukraine as “tragic” but “complicated” as they struggle to see a way forward for peace. As I’ve said here before, I don’t have a peace plan. But I do know that we cannot look away from what is happening to the people there — the moment we do, we will lose sight of the people for whom peace matters most.
A judge in the Indian state of Kerala ruled Wednesday that Cardinal George Alencherry must attend a court hearing related to alleged irregularities in the sale of Church property.
Alencherry is the leader of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and is facing seven criminal cases connected to deals between 2013 and 2018 that reputedly lost his see, the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, $10 million. This is the same diocese in the middle of that especially bitter liturgical dispute that we’ve been following.
The cardinal has always asserted his total innocence and the Kerala state government would appear to agree, saying in July that it believed the sales took place after proper consultation.
November is traditionally a month we spend time praying for the dead, beginning with All Souls’ Day, visits to cemeteries, and indulgences for the faithful departed. But beyond praying for our beloved departed, is it possible to have a relationship with them? What does that look like?
Leonard J. DeLorenzo is the director of undergraduate studies at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame University and he explores just these questions in his book, released this month, "Our Faithful Departed: Where They Are and Why It Matters."
Here come the lawsuits
This week, the Vatican’s former auditor general, Libero Milone, announced that he is suing the Secretariat of State and his own former office for wrongful dismissal. This is… kind of a big deal.
Milone was forced from office in 2017 under threat of prosecution by the then sostituto, Pillar reader Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who accused him of “spying” on senior curial officials, including himself.
In a press conference this week, Milone — who has remained mostly silent since his departure from office — said that Becciu and the Vatican City State’s police force worked to get him turfed out because he’d been all too successful at discovering corruption among Vatican departments and officials.
But here’s where it gets interesting: Milone says he has documents to back up what he claims he found, and he’s ready to prove his case in court.
This might be a gambit to force the Vatican into finally settling with him over his 2017 ousting and to stop him from laying out what he knows in public. But if Milone does end up taking his case to court, it could effectively mean there will be a parallel legal process at the Vatican tribunal mirroring the prosecution of Becciu and others.
It could turn out that he proves rather more successful than the Vatican’s own prosecutors at blowing the doors off the whole affair.
Many trial watchers, myself first among them, have been wondering out loud for a year now why Milone has not been called as a witness. And how, exactly, the prosecutors choose to react to Milone’s lawsuit will be fascinating.
So far, Milone says, their reaction has been to reopen the criminal investigation into him with which he was threatened in 2017. Instead of asking for evidence of possible financial crimes by the men he is already prosecuting, the Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, was apparently more interested in asking Milone about his own “spying.” Or “routine auditing work,” as others might call it.
If Diddi decides to press charges against Milone, it will look to a lot of people like the Promoter of Justice is going after a whistleblower who refused to go away. And prosecuting both Milone and Becciu at the same time would risk turning the Vatican judicial process into a theater of the absurd.
Milone and Diddi are set to meet again on Monday, so we’ll see what happens next.
While I was in the air, Cardinal Becciu’s lawyer put out a statement calling Milone’s version of events “completely unfounded reconstructions which, inevitably, will provoke immediate legal actions to protect the truth and honor of the Cardinal.”
Cardinal Becciu, of course, has form when it comes to suing his former colleagues.
He filed against Msgr. Alberto Perlasca in an Italian court last year, seeking half a million euros for damages to his reputation and lifestyle caused by Perlasca’s cooperation with Vatican prosecutors. That lawsuit was thrown out, and Becciu is on trial in the Vatican for, inter alia, attempting to suborn Perlasca’s testimony.
He’s also, for what it’s worth, threatened suit against journalists from time to time. But we don’t consider that news at The Pillar.
A Roman holiday
I mentioned up top that this week was an all too brief working trip to Rome.
While I might wish I could have stayed longer, I’m fortunate that this isn’t my first trip here, and I’m fairly likely to be back sooner rather than later. If this wasn’t a vacation, I’m lucky that I’ve had a few there over the years.
I don’t actually remember when my first trip to Rome was, though I imagine I’d have been about 14 or so. Living, as I did then, in London, it was a short and affordable plane ride when I was an undergraduate.
With friends, I would occasionally fly across for what we’d call “wild weekends of wine, women, and Latin Mass.” While wine was easy enough to come by, all the Masses were in Italian and I don’t think any girls, or women, gave us the time of day.
But fun was had.
On one such trip, we’d heard that the Venerable English College, the English seminary in Rome, had a campus out of town on one of the hills, and that it had a cricket pitch, which we really wanted to see.
Without any reasonable means of soliciting an invitation, we had the idea of bringing a bat and ball with us to Rome and playing cricket around town in the hopes that a passing seminarian would see us and, naturally enough, insist on inviting us up to play on the VEC’s pitch.
So that’s what we did.
It will shock you to learn the only people who came up to us in St. Peter’s Square were the Gendarmerie police, and they were not amused.
Later that evening, we tried again in front of the Pantheon and something really interesting did happen. After a few minutes of our little group of five messing around, a young man, a Sri Lankan with a duffle bag full of cheap souvenirs he sold on the street, approached us.
“Excuse me, are you playing cricket?” he asked. He joined us. And — I swear this happened — within another 20 minutes we had a dozen other Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi street vendors join us, and a couple of Australian tourists, too.
As it turned into a full game, we drew a small crowd of spectators, and we were beginning to take it a little too seriously — balls were getting hit into the tables of restaurants around the square, and while most people thought we were entertaining, I’m sure it annoyed some.
In the end, the cops busted up the game. It was probably the most fun I’ve had in Rome, though I doubt I could get away with that sort of thing anymore.
For one thing, I’m a lot more wary of the Vatican gendarmes these days.
See you next week, in Baltimore, where on Wednesday, November 16, we are having our USCCB Fall Plenary Assembly Pillar Podcast Dive Bar Live Show Extravaganza, which JD keeps trying to get me to call it the “UFPAPPDBLSE,” and I wish he’d stop.
We’ve booked out Todd Conor’s for the night, and starting at 7pm we’ll be there.
We will record the show, because we need to, but we are mostly looking forward to spending the evening in good company — all friends of The Pillar (and only friends) are most welcome. And episcopal friends drink for free.