Good morning, readers and friends.
You’re reading this after The Pillar has completed our first week of operations, and again I thank you for your support, your story tips, and your considerable feedback — especially the reader who wrote in to tell us that Ed’s newsletter is “funnier than JD’s.” Very kind, thank you.
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While most media coverage in recent days has been focused on the unprecedented events in Washington, DC, at The Pillar, we’ve got news from Rome.
So here’s what you need to know:
Lectors and acolytes
On Monday, Pope Francis issued a change to canon law that will permit women to be admitted to the Church’s formal ministries of lector and acolyte. Most of us are accustomed to women serving as lectors at Mass, so the headlines covering this news might have seemed confusing.
To help clear up that confusion, I wrote up a short q-and-a explaining what the pope did, and why it matters.
I also addressed speculation that the pope’s rule change might be a preliminary step towards some form of female diaconate in the Church.
On the same issue, Ed took a look at whether Pope Francis had the German bishops in mind when writing about new liturgical roles for women:
The German bishops have thus far refrained from direct and outright rejection of Roman authority, and have not followed through on proposals to ordain married men and female deacons, or publicly bless same-sex unions.
At the Vatican, the Congregation for Bishops and Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have pushed back carefully on the German bishops, trying to give a firm “no” on their proposals, without provoking a full-blown break with Rome.
Within that dynamic, Francis has often appeared to look for ways of deferring direct conflict, and kicking sensitive issues down the road, while offering a slightly repackaged status quo to give the appearance of conciliation. The decision to amend canon law to reflect what is already standard praxis in many places - giving bishops the latitude to appoint formally female acolytes and lectors - may be the most recent example of that strategy.
Vatican finance update, again.
Reporting on Vatican finance scandals feels a bit like singing the song that does not end. It just goes on and on, my friends, and each verse gets weirder than the last.
But reporting on this stuff is important, in part because every piece we put in place helps us get closer to seeing one whole, clear picture - and this week, we add another piece to the puzzle.
Ed published on Monday a report about a leaked letter that suggests Cardinal Pietro Parolin pressured the president of a Vatican bank to fund a refinance of the Vatican’s investment in a London property development.
This is a big deal, because Cardinal Parolin has mostly tried to distance himself from the Vatican financial scandal, even while the affair centers on his Vatican office, the Secretariat of State. The letter Ed reported on suggests that His Eminence has been more involved in some aspects of Vatican investments than he has thus far indicated.
On Friday, I laid out what we know, and what we don’t know, about a very interesting financial mystery, of sorts. Since 2014, billions of dollars have been transferred from bank accounts affiliated with the Vatican City State to bank accounts in Australia. That’s not illegal, but it is unusual, especially since no one seems to know who’s sending the money, or why.
The transfers are probably connected to money laundering, but neither Vatican nor Australian officials have any firm conclusions yet. And since the Vatican’s finances aren’t externally audited, getting a handle on what’s happening isn’t going to be easy for anyone.
A tale of two systems
Last week, we reported that Chicago priest Fr. Michael Pfleger has been removed from parish ministry, as a claim that he committed sexual abuse decades ago is investigated.
In an analysis Friday, Ed pointed out that some bishops facing accusations similar to Pfleger’s have remained in ministry during investigations.
Ed argued that the discrepancy could become an issue in ecclesial reform efforts.
“If bishops accused of abuse consistently remain in ministry, while priests facing similar accusations do not, the credibility of the Vos estis reforms may come into question,” he wrote.
The Pillar Podcast
On Friday’s episode of The Pillar Podcast, we talked about the violence at the U.S. Capitol. Ed argued that the pandemic has brought to the surface a widespread fear of death, contributing to political violence on both the left and the right. I urged that the events of the last year make us - especially laity - reconsider whether evangelization is a central aspect of our Christian lives, and urged that families discern seriously and practically what their charism and apostolates should be.
We also - for some reason - talked about our wedding cakes, and Ed lamented paying a “cake consulting fee.” I would lament that too, if it happened to me.
You can now find The Pillar Podcast on all leading podcast apps.
Jots and Tittles
—Federal death row inmate Lisa Montgomery was granted a stay of execution late Monday night, just hours ahead of her scheduled execution, which was to take place on Tuesday. The U.S. bishops renewed on Monday their call for an end to the federal death penalty.
No matter what you think of the death penalty, the story of Archbishop Joseph Naumann is worth listening to. Archbishop Naumann’s father was murdered while the archbishop was not yet born. This gives him a unique vantage point from which to speak about the issue.
—As bishops decide how to approach Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17) under pandemic conditions, some dioceses are reportedly suggesting priests sprinkle ashes over the heads of Catholics, rather than impose them by thumb on the forehead.
The sprinkling method, which is common in many European countries, would avoid skin-to-skin contact on one of the highest Mass attendance days of the year.
—Here’s an artist who synchronized nine screens to create something quite novel, and rather beautiful. Watch it.
—Wednesday is the memorial of St. Hilary of Poitiers, a fourth century bishop and Doctor of the Church. Hilary had a daughter before he converted to Christianity, and that daughter, St. Abra, become a consecrated virgin and a saint.
St. Hilary is known as the Hammer of the Arians. Still, in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI praised the saint’s “conciliatory spirit” and pastoral kindness.
Pope Benedict said Hilary had a “spirit of reconciliation that seeks to understand those who have not yet arrived, and helps them with great theological intelligence to reach full faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
May the Lord grant each of us that same spirit.
Please be assured of our prayers for you, and please pray for us.
Yours in Christ,