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The Congress, the news, and Francis' poverty

Hey everybody,

Today is Tuesday of the first week of Lent, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.

But I don’t want to talk about today quite yet. 

Instead, I want to tell you about February 24, 1208, — a Sunday, 816 years ago.

So far as I can tell, it was not quite Lent yet, as Easter came a bit later in 1208 than it does this year. 

In Italy’s Umbria region, it would have been sunny, and most likely in the mid or high 30s that Sunday.

And on that Sunday morning, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone went to Mass at a little chapel called St. Mary of the Angels, also called the Porziuncola. 

The Porziuncola, now inside the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. Credit: Georges Jansoone/wikimedia. CC BY SA 2.5

Giovanni was a known commodity to the little worshiping community there, because he was kind of an odd hermit — the son of a merchant in nearby Assisi, a one-time soldier who’d spent time as a prisoner-of-war, and who’d come back different from battlefield and dungeon. 

After a few lost years, Giovanni got religion. He was not the same after that.

In fact, two or three years earlier, at another country church — that one crumbling into ruins — Giovanni had heard the voice of the Lord, calling to him: “Rebuild my Church.”

So, amid a very big falling out with his dad, Giovanni started begging stones, or doing manual labor to earn enough money for them, and he rebuilt that little church — just like the Lord told him.

After that one, he worked on other churches in the region, so that by 1208, Giovanni was living in a little hut outside St. Mary of the Angels, and working to repair its damaged walls. 

Anyway, that Sunday, on February 24, Giovanni heard the Gospel of St. Matthew:

“Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.”

It was like the Lord’s words were spoken to him, personally. They told him what to do with his life. Giovanni — whose friends called him Francis — knew that the Lord was calling him to total, radical, lifegiving poverty. 

Those words of the Gospel became the first rule of his life. 

Over time, other men came to join him, beginning with a guy named Bernard of Quintavalle, a lawyer who was, I presume, from a town called Quintavalle. 

As more and more men came, the rule of life became more detailed, as was necessary. But for Francis, the core was always the same: He would abandon everything to follow the Lord, no matter where or how he was called. 

Francis didn’t want to be the founder of a global religious community. He wanted to do penance for his sins, to pray, and to listen to the voice of the Lord. 

But that was enough. Through him, the Lord moved to form the Franciscan charism, the ever-fractured Franciscan family, and the missions and apostolates they’ve taken up for the glory of God. 

“Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.”

The Lord is talking to us too, one way or another. It’s quite a call.

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The news

While the German bishops’ conference meets for the spring plenary assembly this week, a controversial item was taken off the agenda, at the last minute, after a Vatican request

The German bishops will not be voting on the statutes of their proposed “synodal committee” — a joint lay-episcopal group that would help usher in another lay-episcopal group, the “synodal council,” which would be given decision-making authority over the Church in Germany.

The statutes, if they had come to fruition, would have allowed a resolution affecting the future of the German Church to be passed with the support of just 11% of diocesan bishops.

That’s a big deal.

If you want to know how the bishops got there, or how they were expected to vote — or how significant the “synodal committee” really was — you can read an excellent analysis from Luke Coppen, published on Friday. And, for the whole story, you should.

But the Vatican intervened on Saturday, telling the German bishops to halt their plans. And, as it happens, they did it — to some, that’s probably the most surprising part of the story. 

But the situation isn’t over, and the bishops’ conference has not indicated that plans for the controversial committee will be abandoned altogether.

Instead, the bishops will likely discuss their plans as they meet in Augsburg over the next few days, and decide then how they will respond to the Vatican

We’ll see what happens.


And while we wait, “synodality” continues to be a theme in local Churches and at the Vatican, where preparations are underway for the second session of the synod on synodality this October. 

As it happens, the German bishops are not the only episcopate using the notion of synodality to call for radical slates of revisions to Church teaching and practice. Right next door, in Belgium, bishops unveiled last week their own synodal manifesto, which called for “decentralization” of ecclesial decision-making, and a reexamination of Church doctrine and practice.

But the Belgian bishops have done that — and published liturgical guidelines for same-sex blessings — without invoking pushback from Rome. 

How? Why are Belgian relations with the Vatican different? And what — and here’s the question I know you’re asking — does Cardinal Robert McElroy have to say about all of that?

In a broad analysis published yesterday, Ed took a look at all of that. You should read it.

And you should be especially attentive to the words of Cardinal McElroy, during a presentation at this week’s Religious Education Congress of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 

During a discussion on the synod on synodality, McElroy acknowledged areas of “deep divide” among bishops on a number of ecclesial issues, including the prospect of ordaining women to the diaconate.

McElroy recounted that the discussion about women deacons had been broad and open-ended, and included some idea of doing away with the transitional diaconate, which comes before priesthood, in order to “make it easier to have women deacons” by snipping the connection between priesthood and diaconate.

That idea flouts Catholic doctrine on sacramental theology, which sees a unity between the sacred orders of diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate. It would no more be plausible to sever episcopate from priesthood than priesthood from diaconate. 

And to be clear, McElroy didn’t endorse the idea. He recounted it. But neither did he seem to reject it — merely recounting it as an element of the synodal discussion. And for some, that kind of approach seems to embody the problems that are embedded in the synodal method. In the kind of open discussion in which there are “no bad ideas,” there has to be someone whose job is to say which ideas are not theologically valid. That’s customarily the role of bishops, who have a teaching charism given to them in their ordination. 

The criticism of synodality is that the teaching element of the episcopal charism is being surrendered, even willingly, in order to let sound bites about the ideas of the vox populi, or the scientific consensus, carry the day, or drive the agenda. That’s what’s happened in Germany, and it’s exactly what the Holy See has warned against. 

But it will continue.

Indeed, McElroy told the RE Congress that the Church will be rethinking its approach to some unspecified moral and theological questions, because “the understanding of human nature and moral reality upon which previous declarations of doctrine were made were in fact limited or defective.”

That’s quite a claim. It’s not made for no reason. And in October — if the synod on synodality continues — it will be the rallying cry in Rome for calls not unlike those of the Belgians or the Germans. At least without a quorum of bishops who feel called to exercise their teaching charism in more deliberate ways.

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The Vatican accepted last week the resignation of the pontifical delegate for the Foyers de Charité, a troubled international association of the faithful co-founded by the French mystic Marthe Robin.

The community has faced difficulty last year after an investigation found evidence of “seriously deviant acts” committed by the French priest who was influential on the movement’s foundation.

Twenty-six women report being touched by Finet and subjected to intrusive questions about their sexuality in the confessional, when they were 10 to 14 years of age.

Abuse of the confessional is a serious issue, one that we’ve consistently and seriously reported on. It has devastating effects. But can the community be reformed? 

Read The Pillar’s reporting here.


I’m not sure exactly how to begin talking about this next story, which I suspect most of you already know about.

New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral held on Thursday a funeral liturgy for transgender activist Cecilia Gentili, a man who identified as a transgender woman.

The funeral was profiled in the New York Times, which called it “an exuberant piece of political theater.”

Indeed, the church was packed with people, many of them in drag, or otherwise in elaborate and sometimes indecent costumes, in a liturgy eventually described by the cathedral’s rector as “scandalous” and “sacrilegious.”

I watched the entire liturgy, and — if you’ll allow me to editorialize — I agree with that characterization. 

The liturgy was hijacked, effectively, by activists who spoke blasphemously and sacrilegiously, sometimes with vile profanity, while calling at various times to advance the “gender ideology” so often condemned by Pope Francis.

At one point, two men kissed in the Church’s sanctuary — and all the while the celebrant seemed overwhelmed by what was happening around him, and cathedral personnel entirely unprepared to deal with it.

It’s hard to imagine any practicing Catholic who would not be deeply concerned, and disturbed, by what they saw. 

Initially, the archdiocese was somewhat diffident in its response, with a spokesman emphasizing to The Pillar Friday that “every single [funeral at St. Patrick’s] has been for a sinner in need of God's mercy.”

But by Saturday, the cathedral’s rector issued a statement expressing “outrage” over the liturgy. 

The priest also said that a Mass of Reparation had been offered at the cathedral, at the directive of Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Amid all of that, and the justifiable outrage of Catholics, The Pillar put together an explainer on Monday, which cataloged what we know (having watched and documented the liturgy), what the Church has said, what canon law says about funerals — and how that canon law is often applied.

If you want the facts, you’ll find it helpful. I should mention that the explainer has been the subject of criticism from some readers. And as far as I can tell, the criticism boils down to discontent that we refrained from expressing our judgments on the liturgy, and the archdiocesan response, in the report. 

Well, that’s too bad. I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, that I think our first job, often, is to accurately and dispassionately recount what has happened, and what is known about that — so that when judgments are made, they’re made in light of the facts. 

If you value that approach, you should probably subscribe to The Pillar so we can keep doing it.

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But let me also say what isn’t known yet, about the scandalous liturgy:

— The extent to which cathedral officials knew what the character of the liturgy might be. There’s some indication that officials understood that the liturgy would be very well-attended, and were given clear indication of who Gentili was, and what he represented among LGBT activists. 

— Whether the cathedral’s screening processes are insufficient, or whether cathedral officials were aware of what might be about to unfold, and permitted the liturgy anyway.

— Whether Cardinal Dolan will weigh in directly on what happened, and whether the archdiocese will investigate how it happened. 

It will also be interesting to see whether the priest celebrant himself eventually speaks, and to understand why he decided to allow the liturgy to continue. In fairness, that’s been the subject of a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking — and the priest seemed genuinely taken by surprise, and uncertain about how to proceed. But that raises the question about whether policies will be developed, and training provided, for what happens when a liturgy turns into “an exuberant piece of political theater.”

In short, what happened at St. Patrick’s raises a lot of questions, which have to be addressed as the Church engages in ministry in contemporary American culture.

And that St. Patrick’s, in midtown Manhattan, was unprepared for the culture outside its door leaves me wondering about cathedrals and parishes in the rest of the country.

While the cathedral rector may have intended to offer the final word on what happened, it should really be the first — with a lot of questions lingering for the Church in New York, and in the United States.

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Finally, Venerable Jerome Lejuene was the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and a scientist whose research dramatically improved the lives of people with Down syndrome.

He was also a disciple of the living God, and his faith was influential on the people who knew him.

The Pillar talked this week Dr. María del Pilar Calva Mercado, a scientist who was a student of Lejeune — and who experienced a deep conversion because of his witness. 

Here’s her memory:

I remember that while caring for patients with Down syndrome, he would use a microscope which had two pairs of lenses. He would sit with a patient, and he with a pair of lenses and the child with another pair, and he began to count the chromosomes with them and when they reached 21, they would see that there were three.

Dr. Lejeune would explain things to them. And the patients would say: “Ah, that's why I'm so special.” 

He always sought to dignify them, and to convince parents to lovingly accept their child, who had been born with a genetic disorder.

It’s a beautiful interview. Read it here.

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The Congress

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Sunday concluded its annual Religious Education Congress, a summit which draws thousands of Catholics for workshops and talks. While attendance is reportedly down since Covid, the annual event remains one of the largest gatherings of Catholics in the United States. Twelve thousand adults attended the meeting, and 6,500 teens attended the Congress’ youth track.

The opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. Credit: RECongress/YouTube.

Now, I haven't been a young person in at least 15 years, by any reasonable definition, so I can't pretend to know what moves young people to faith. I would not have predicted it would be liturgical dancing, but the Archdiocese of Los Angeles certainly wouldn't spend hundreds of man hours, and millions of dollars on this event if there weren't Catholics who expect this kind of thing will be a catalyst for deep discipleship and serious conversion. 


The opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. Credit: RECongress/YouTube.

Since liturgical dancing is out of vogue in most of the country, and many Catholics have never even seen it, I’ve grabbed a few of my favorite screen shots from the Religious Education Congress for your interest and edification. 

Cardinal Robert McElroy presides at a liturgy during the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. Credit: RECongress/YouTube.

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Before I go, I’d like to commend to you a few things you might find worth reading.

First, The Dispatch asked me to write a bit about Lent this weekend, and you can read my thoughts on the penitential season right here.

Second, I was sent an essay by a Nigerian theologian, Father Anthony Akinwale, OP, on the synod on synodality, and Nigeria. 

Fr.  Akinwale argues that “in the build-up to the first session of the Synod, voices from the global north, in previews and commentaries were domineering and loud. The power of the media in the global north, even ecclesiastical media, surpassed the power of the media in local Churches of the global south. Discussions preceding the first session unveiled an ideological civil war within the global north, a war fought by proxy within the Church in the global north. And as the cavalry of contending armies in that civil war galloped into the sacred precincts of the Church of Christ, the Gospel seemed to have been wheeled out of the Church.”

So how should Nigerians proceed? The priest’s answer is worth reading.

Finally, cultural critic Ted Gioia wrote this week an important “State of Culture” reflection that’s worth reading for, well, basically everyone.

We live, Gioia says, in a “post-entertainment society”, and “it’s not pretty.”

Post-entertainment means that culture has moved from an entertainment phase to a distraction phase, with every part of life gamified and commodified into dopamine loops, by tech companies who know exactly what they’re doing.

Does this seem familiar?

Here’s how it applies, he says:

This is a fascinating read, and very insightful. 

You can find it here.

There’s a lot happening in the life of the Church right now, and The Pillar is on the case. If you depend on that — if you think The Pillar’s work is worth reading, well, remember, we depend on subscribers to do it. That’s no joke — we depend on you.

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Please be assured of our prayers. And please pray for us. We need it.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

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