Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily newsletter.
I’m Luke Coppen and I seek to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.
😇 Today’s feast: St. James of the Marches.
📜 Today’s readings: Is 4:2-6 ▪ Ps 122:1-2, 3-4b, 4cd-5, 6-7, 8-9 ▪ Mt 8:5-11.
🗞 Starting seven
1: Ghanaian Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr has died in Rome at the age of 63, three months after receiving the red hat.
2: Archbishop Ante Jozić, the apostolic nuncio to Belarus, has celebrated Mass for the repose of the soul of the country’s foreign minister Vladimir Makei, who died suddenly on Nov. 26, the day after the two men last met (Belarusian report).
3: Pope Francis has given an exclusive interview to America magazine.
4: Cardinal Angelo Becciu has said that he met the pope on Saturday and received an assurance that he can continue taking part in cardinals’ events (Italian report).
5: Cardinal Jozef De Kesel has confirmed that Belgium’s bishops discussed “pastoral care for homosexuals” during last week’s ad limina visit to Rome (Flemish report, German report).
6: Vatican watcher Andrea Gagliarducci detects “a wish to turn the hands of the clock back to before the pontificate of Benedict XVI.”
7: And David M. Cheney explains how he created the website catholic-hierarchy.org.
🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino
Appointment of Canon Philip Moger as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Southwark, England.
Papal audiences for Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy; Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Vicar General of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome; Frances Collins, Ireland’s new ambassador to the Holy See; Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz Braña, Prelate of Opus Dei; Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vicar General of His Holiness for Vatican City and president of the Fabric of St. Peter’s; Bishop Polikarp, vicar bishop of Patriarch Neophyte of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and entourage; Community of the Pontifical Latin American College; Students participating in the meeting for Education for peace and care.
Notice announcing when cardinals will formally take possession of their titular churches.
🔄 Weekend round-up
On Saturday, Nov. 26, Pope Francis named Irish Archbishop Noël Treanor apostolic nuncio to the European Union, met with Vatican auditor general Alessandro Cassinis Righini and others, spoke to the assembly of the Union of Superiors General (Italian text), and addressed staff of the Italian Central Anti-Crime Directorate (Italian text). The Holy See issued a statement (Italian text) lamenting the recent “installation ceremony” of Chinese Bishop John Peng Weizhao.
On Sunday, Nov. 27, the pope delivered his Angelus address, appealing for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and prayers for victims of a landslide in Italy. He also issued a message to the International Forum Catholic Action (Spanish text).
🧐 Look closer
What’s the deal? The Holy See issued a 144-word statement on Saturday deploring a ceremony on Nov. 24 in which the Chinese “underground” Bishop John Peng Weizhao was installed as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Jiangxi, which is not recognized by the Vatican.
“This event, in fact, did not take place in accordance with the spirit of dialogue existing between the Vatican and Chinese sides and with what was stipulated in the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops, Sept. 22, 2018,” the statement said.
The Vatican expressed hope that “similar episodes will not be repeated” and it would receive “appropriate communications on the matter” from Chinese authorities, while underlining “its full readiness to continue respectful dialogue.”
What’s the context? The “installation ceremony” took place the day before a Hong Kong court convicted and fined Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and a month after the Vatican extended its controversial deal with China until 2024.
Bishop Peng was secretly ordained bishop of Yujiang in 2014 with a mandate from Pope Francis, succeeding underground Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, who was imprisoned for 23 years.
The unrecognized Diocese of Jiangxi was created by the Chinese authorities from “the five ecclesiastical circumscriptions traditionally linked to the Metropolitan See of Nanchang,” reported AsiaNews.
What does it mean? Massimo Introvigne, editor-in-chief of the online magazine Bitter Winter, said the move showed that Vatican officials and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interpreted their (as yet unpublished) deal in different ways.
“The CCP … interprets the 2018 agreement to the effect that the consent of the Holy See is only needed for the consecration of new bishops, not for moving those the Vatican has already recognized (or created before 2018, as in the case of Bishop Peng) from one diocese to another,” he wrote.
In a Twitter thread, Michel Chambon argued that Beijing was not breaking the agreement.
“Rather, Beijing is testing it and the nerves of the Holy See. They can say: no forced ordination has occurred. Instead, we have given official recognition to a bishop who wasn’t yet recognized,” wrote the research fellow at the Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics (ISAC).
The French theologian suggested that the Holy See was also testing Beijing by openly contesting the step.
“But as Xi recently told Trudeau, Beijing doesn’t like when interlocutors reveal confidential details about their negotiations. And Rome knows that. Yet, they do it,” he noted.
Giorgio Bernardelli, editor-in-chief of AsiaNews said that the episode showed “how little weight Beijing attaches to the Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops.”
“It should also be remembered that — despite the renewal of the Agreement — it has been since Sept. 8, 2021, that no appointment of a bishop has taken place in China, despite the large number of vacant dioceses,” he wrote. “And that the Accord was not even mentioned in the official texts of the Assembly of Chinese Catholics held in Wuhan last summer under strict Party control.”
What’s next? The Vatican remains committed to the provisional agreement, despite the latest setback.
Summing up the Holy See’s attitude, La Civiltà Cattolica’s editor-in-chief Fr. Antonio Spadaro wrote that “the Agreement is not the solution to all the problems, but a decisive start to a long – possibly tiring – journey.”
He insisted that despite the difficulties, “there are multiple signs that many Chinese Catholics have grasped the inspiration afforded by the Holy See, and are grateful and comforted by the full communion with the pope and the universal Church.”
What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.
🔍 Stories to watch
🇷🇺 The Kremlin has said that it welcomes the Vatican’s offer to mediate talks to end the Ukraine war but insisted that Ukraine “does not need negotiation platforms.”
🇬🇧 A landmark case challenging the U.K.’s Down syndrome abortion law could be taken to the country’s Supreme Court.
🇨🇿 The monastery where Gregor Mendel pioneered the study of genetics has been declared a national cultural monument by the Czech government.
🇨🇭 A former Swiss Guard commander’s attorney has insisted that his client is simply taking “time out,” following reports of his disappearance (German report).
🇪🇸 Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera has called for the opening of the beatification cause of a bioethicist who died in 2021 (Spanish report).
🇳🇬 A priest has been kidnapped in Nigeria’s Nasarawa State, along with an unknown number of lay people.
🇮🇶 Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako has said that around 20 Iraqi Christian families a month are leaving northern Iraq for other countries.
📅 Coming soon
Nov. 30 Feast of St. Andrew; Biopic of first Korean Catholic priest St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon released in South Korea.
Dec. 1 Benedict XVI due to receive 2022 Ratzinger Prize winners.
Dec. 3 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene unveiled.
Dec. 4 First anniversary of Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow’s episcopal ordination.
Dec. 5 “Fruits of the Spirit” exhibit launched at London’s National Gallery.
Dec. 7 Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington turns 75.
Dec. 8 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; Pope Francis’ act of veneration of Mary Immaculate; Worldwide Women’s Rosary.
Have a happy feast of St. James of the Marches.
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