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The synod, an antipope, and 'a mortal sinner.'

The synod, an antipope, and 'a mortal sinner.'

Hey everybody,

I’m writing to you this morning from a quick trip to California, which is why The Tuesday Pillar Post might seem a bit later in your inbox today - it is still early on the west coast.

On Sept. 20, 1378, most of the Church’s College of Cardinals met under lock and key outside of Rome, to elect Cardinal Robert of Geneva as the pontiff, Pope Clement VII.

Robert had been an archbishop in France, a pastor in England, and a papal legate — and in 1377, he had led a cadre of papal troops to quelch a rebellion in the city of Cesena, a part of the Papal States.

But there was a problem with Clement VII’s election to the papacy, and the problem was this — just five months before, the same cardinals had elected as pope the Archbishop of Bari, Bartolomeo Prignano, who had taken the name Urban VI.

When September rolled around, and the cardinals elected Clement VII, Pope Urban was still alive.

But the new pontiff had already worn out his welcome — Urban was regarded as an uncharitable and angry man, plus he had an agenda to reform the financial affairs of both the Roman curia and the episcopal class. That made a lot of cardinals pretty mad. Urban added to the problem when he said he would not move his home and office to Avignon, France, where the papal court had previously been headquartered for several decades.

Pope Urban VI. Public domain.

So by the end of summer in 1378, a plurality of cardinals — especially the French cardinals — decided that Urban’s election had been invalid. They claimed they had only voted for him because they were afraid that an angry Roman mob would riot if they didn’t.

Then they called a new conclave, and elected Clement VII.

Of course, Pope Urban didn’t like that very much.

Urban figured he was already the pope, and he had the backing of the king of England, most of Italy, Sweden and Denmark, Bohemia, and the Holy Roman Empire.

But on the other side of the aisle, King Charles V of France supported Clement’s claim to the papacy, as did Queen Joanna I of Naples, and most of the Iberian kingdoms, and eventually Scotland.

Pretty soon, Clement moved to Avignon, which endeared him to the French. And just like that, 644 years ago today, the Western Schism was born.

Europe was completely divided over a pretty big question: Who was the pope?

Clement was the antipope of Avignon for the next 20 years. During that time, Urban died, and the cardinals who supported him elected him a successor. Then Clement died, and his cardinals elected him a successor.

By 1409, with the Roman and Avignon claims to the papacy each going strong, a third claimant showed up, when a cadre of cardinals met in Pisa, denounced the papacies of Rome and Avignon, and elected a new guy to be pope.

In 1414, the Pisan papal claimant and the Roman pontiff agreed there should be a meeting to sort out all this. Both the Pisan “pope” and the Roman pope agreed to resign their offices, with their collections of cardinals coming together to elect a new pontiff.

The Avignon antipope held out. But his support waned, as most of Europe rallied around the newly elected Pope Martin V. The final Avignon antipope — who was elected by only three cardinals — resigned his claim in 1429, and recognized Martin V as the legitimate successor to St. Peter.

The schism that began on this date in 1378 took more than 50 years to be completely resolved.

What’s the point? I don’t know, exactly. But if contemporary ecclesiastical politics seem a bit much to you, just remember that it could always be the 14th century.

It is not, however, the 14th century — so here’s what’s happening right now:

The News

The USCCB released yesterday its “national synthesis” document on the first stage of the synod on synodality — a kind of summary document on the consultations and discernment sessions that have taken place across the country over the past 10 months.

The synthesis document said a lot in its 16 pages, but what most struck me was a bold claim from the bishops’ conference: that the synodal process has “renewed a sense of common love and responsibility for the good of our Church—in our parishes, in our dioceses, and in our country.”

The synodal process, the USCCB said, “has opened a way forward for the Church in the United States to better experience and express its communion as a people united in a common faith.”

Those are surprisingly strong assertions from the USCCB — ushering in an ecclesial renewal across the entire United States is a big deal.

The claim is “big if true,” as the kids say.

But how true is it?

For their part, USCCB officials say that more than 700,000 people in the U.S. had some involvement in the synod on synodality — whether by attending a local session or by filling out an online survey. Seven hundred thousand is a lot of people.

Still, 700,000 people are less than 1% of the 73 million Americans who identified as Catholic in 2021. Can the synodal 1% really usher in a “renewed sense of common love and responsibility for the good of the Church?”

For their part, the synodal organizers tell me that past is prologue, and that we’re on the precipice of much more synodality in the Church. This, the report says, has “opened a way forward for the Church in the United States to better experience and express its communion as a people united in a common faith.”

You can read our report on the “national synthesis” document right here.

And stay tuned, because I’m scheduled to talk with the USCCB’s synod organizers this week —  I aim to bring you more about the process, and what comes next, just as soon as I can.

Cardinal Joseph Zen was due in a Chinese courtroom this week, with the 90-year-old cardinal facing charges that he failed to properly register a charity for which he is a trustee, which provided financial and legal aid to Hong Kongers arrested during 2019 political demonstrations.

On Monday, The Pillar broke the news that the cardinal’s trial had been delayed because the judge in the case had tested positive for coronavirus.

And this morning we had an update; as we reported that Zen’s trial will begin next week.

If you want to get up to speed on Cardinal Zen’s situation, this report has everything you need to know. Read it.

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The bishops’ conference of Nigeria finished on Friday their annual plenary assembly, and the meeting ended with a banger of a statement on the country’s political situation.

The bishops issued a blistering criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership in Nigeria, saying the government has failed to address both genocidal violence in Nigeria, and the country’s crumbling economy.

The bishops also accused the country’s political leaders of manipulating Nigerians:

“All citizens need to know, right from childhood, that they are stakeholders in the political affairs of their country; that they are actors and not mere spectators. Only when the people are enlightened to take cognizance of their duties to the nation and their rights in it can they escape the servitude of political manipulation and ignorance in their electoral habits.”

All of this comes ahead of an important presidential election in Nigeria in February. And a lot is going on in the country right now — floods in Nigeria have displaced 100,000 people and tons of crops in recent days, and the country’s government just seized almost two tons of cocaine — mostly destined for export to Europe — from a warehouse in Lagos.

So with chaos in Nigeria on several fronts, read what the bishops have to say.

Next, we reported on Monday that the Holy See has turned down a request from some U.S. bishops to add a feast day celebrating the marriage of Joseph and Mary to the Church’s universal liturgical calendar.

While a number of U.S. bishops have asked the Vatican in recent months to add the Feast of the Holy Spouses — Mary and Joseph — to the Church’s liturgical calendar, the Vatican has said it has “no plans” to do so.

Why not?

Well, according to the USCCB, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship is “of the mind that the themes of this devotion are sufficiently addressed through the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, as well as the Solemnity of St. Joseph and the Optional Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.”

Good idea? Bad idea? I don’t know. What I do know is that you will only read this story at The Pillar.

So if you’re interested in both liturgy and Church politics — and you know you are — this one’s for you. Read it.

Finally, “Father Stu,” a biopic film about Montana priest Fr. Stuart Long, made it to Netflix in the U.S. this week, after it was released in theaters back in April.

To my surprise, I thought the movie was pretty good.

But the true story of Fr. Stuart Long is much, much more interesting than the movie.

So back in April, Michelle LaRosa talked with Fr. Stu’s dad, his best friend, his bishop, his sister, and more, to bring you the real story of Fr. Stu.

Sure, Michelle also talked with Mark Wahlberg, but those other people had the real story you want to read, so I’m reminding you this week that her profile of Stuart Long is excellent.

Read it, share it on social media, and remind your friends to subscribe to The Pillar.

The education of Elizabeth II

It is possible that you’ve read all you care to about the British monarchy, and you’re ready to return your focus to matters ecclesiastical and domestic. But in case you’d like just a bit more to read about the late Queen Elizabeth II, I found interesting this 1943 Atlantic article on the then-future-queen’s education. You might like it too.

We are still tweeking elements of our new website, with the help of reader feedback from all of you.

Two quick notes:

  1. We’ve remade and relaunched our comments section, as the commenting client we were using was not very good. What we’ve got now is better, and I hope we’ll see more of the robust, engaging, charitable discussion that has come to characterize The Pillar’s community of subscribers. Have at it:

Leave a comment

2. If you were looking for The Pillar’s RSS news feed, we’ve fixed the glitch that kept you from it. You can find it right here.

After the funeral of Elizabeth II on Monday, I was reminded of the ritual which customarily began the funeral rites of the Hapsburg monarchs.

Here’s how it worked in 2011, for the death of Oto von Habsburg, whom I was privileged to meet several times:

The Grand Chamberlain raps at the door of the Capuchin friary in Vienna.

“Who demands entry?” a friar asks.

“Otto of Austria, once Crown Prince of Austria, Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia,” begins the chamberlain, who recites a long litany of Otto’s titles.

“We do not know him,” the friar says.

The chamberlain knocks again.

“Who demands entry?”

The chamberlain recites a list of the honors and accomplishments of Otto’s life.

“We do not know him,” the friar insists.

He raps at the door a third time.

“Who demands entry?”

“Otto - a mortal sinner.”

The door swings open, and the funeral begins.

It’s an extraordinary ritual, celebrated for generations of the Habsburg imperial monarchs. But it’s expected that Otto - once a crown prince - will be the last Habsburg for whom the ritual will be offered.

Watch it now:

I received an email yesterday from a reader of The Pillar who is preparing to enter the Church:

“I am converting and being received into the Church in November on All Souls day, it may sound weird but y'alls website was a huge help to me and shares some credit for my conversion. I cannot support financially at the moment, but I pray for y'all and just wanted to let you know to keep up the good work.”

We’re surprised by how often we hear from readers who say The Pillar has played a role in their conversion story. And that’s why we we ask you to become a paying subscriber, if you can - or to upgrade your subscription - to help our team continue to cover the Church we love with honesty and integrity, and, in the mystery of God’s Providence, to see that sow the seeds of conversion.

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Finally, join me in praying for the people of Puerto Rico, who are without power, and expect to remain that way, after the devastating effects of a hurricane.

As always, be assured of prayers, and please pray for us. We need it.

In Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

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