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War and peace, Putin’s face, and a question of manners

Happy Friday friends,

And an especially happy Friday to those of you who are ending your day with vespers or Mass to begin the feast of St. Joseph. You know what I’m saying.

We have a full slate to get through this week, so we’ll just get on with things.

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Pope Francis met yesterday with Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong. That meeting apparently came after a session for Chow with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin. 

We don’t know why Chow was in Rome, or what they discussed at the meeting, but given the situation in Hong Kong right now, with COVID cases and mortality rates at an all time high, it must have been fairly urgent. 

Chow’s visit may have something to do with the Vatican-China deal, which is set to expire in October and in all likelihood will be renewed. 

As one Hong Kong priest observed to me, whatever it is, it must be worth the 14 days in quarantine the bishop faces when he gets home and given the suspension of flights in and out of Hong Kong from most Western countries, he’s going to have to take the long way around to get there.

Read all about it here.


Last week, former Franciscan University chaplain Fr. David Morrier was sentenced to five years probation and a lifetime on the sex offenders’ register after pleading guilty to one count of sexual battery.

That plea, and that punishment, don’t come close to conveying the circumstances of what he did. The victim’s statement to the court is spiritually nauseating. 

But even with the criminal case closed, there are a lot of questions about who knew what, and when, within the university community and the Franciscans - and they may well end up subject to an ecclesial investigation. 

JD has an analysis laying out what we know, and what we don’t.

In this week’s conversation with interesting people, our own Charlie Camosy talked to Fr. Thomas Berg and Dr. Timothy Lock - who work together at St. Joseph Seminary in New York. 

They have co-written a new book exploring the meaning of forgiveness, and its importance. It’s a subject that, frankly, we need to talk more about in the Church. Forgiveness might be a core part of the Christian life, but that doesn’t mean we understand it, or what it asks of us — especially when it is most needed.

Read the whole thing.

The Bishop of Essen, Germany, commissioned this month 18 lay extraordinary baptismal ministers for the diocese. The 17 women and one man will prepare parents of children and individual adults for the sacrament, which they will then confer.

Culturally, it’s certainly something new — though, in terms of canon and sacramental law, it’s not exactly revolutionary. Perhaps the more interesting question is: why did Bishop Overbeck do it? 

He has said he’s creating the new class of minister to address a shortage of priests and deacons available in the diocese, though it’s not clear that the situation in his diocese meets the ordinary canonical understanding of “absent” clergy. I think a more likely explanation might be found in the diocesan press release on the event, which touted how the new ministers were a sign of “diversity” in the local Church.

Overbeck has previously called for the ordination of women to the priesthood, and for the end of clerical celibacy, in line with the Germans’ ongoing “synodal way.” It’s possible that, with Rome and the world’s bishops closing ranks against that agenda, he’s having to settle for something a little less radical.

Read all about it here.

As the invasion of Ukraine approaches its fourth week, the humanitarian disaster is just getting worse. With daily reports of civilian buildings being targeted, the estimated number of people fleeing the country has risen north of 2.5 million.

Michelle La Rosa spoke this week with Megan Gilbert from Catholic Relief Services, who noted that this is now the fastest exodus of refugees in Europe since the Second World War. 

Unique about the Ukrainian refugee exodus is that, despite the millions fleeing the violence, there aren’t yet any refugee camps. Instead, many Ukrainians are being welcomed into private homes — some extended family, some friends, some co-religionists, and some just generous strangers.

But, Gilbert noted, the numbers needing a welcome show no signs of dropping off, so aid workers are planning for what will happen when the spare rooms run out.

Read the whole thing.

Just a reminder, we are trying this Lent to make our own small offering in support of the people of Ukraine. 

We’re giving the first $10 of every new paying subscription to the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Philadelphia’s War Victims and Humanitarian Crisis fund

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We’re also giving a dollar for every new free signup to our email list, so if you think you know someone who might like this newsletter, forward it to them — they can have it for free and we’ll make the donation. 

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It’s not going to fix everything, but we want to do more than just write about what people are going through.

Just war no more?

Pope Francis this week held a video conference with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, in which the two men discussed, well, war and peace. 

The headlines coming out of that call focused more on Pope Francis, who told the Patriarch: 

“There was a time, even in our Churches, when people spoke of a holy war or a just war. Today we cannot speak in this manner. A Christian awareness of the importance of peace has developed.”

In the context of his conversation with Kirill, who has been a more-or-less open supporter of the Russian invasion, it’s not hard to parse the pointed papal plea and thinly veiled rebuke. 

But, of course, the pope didn’t make a specific remark about the unholy and unjust Russian war on Ukraine, he spoke in general terms, about all wars — and Vatican Media took the pope’s quote, and disseminated broadly.

So we got curious about what Pope Francis has said in the past about just war, and how that relates to what his predecessors, and an ecumenical council, had to say on the subject.

I find all this pretty interesting. You might too. 

It seems that Francis is saying that “war” — as an accepted thing that countries do as a matter of course — has no place in a world where there are legitimate international institutions, laws, and fora for aggrieved nations to settle their claims against each other. As such, all war is unjust — and resisting and policing those who impose war is a right and necessary action.

I cannot say I share the pope’s assessment of the maturity, utility, efficacy, or justice of our international institutions — I’ve spent too much time in Rwanda.

Further, I think the rhetorical neatness of “all war is unjust” denies validation to the justness of causes like the Ukrainians’. Moreover, it closes off necessary discussion of the just and unjust means by which wars can be fought — even in a just cause.

But I can at least see what the pope is saying. I think.

Once more, with feeling

Pope Francis also announced this week that he will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25. Bishops around the world are lining up to say that they will join the pope, and make the same consecration at the same time.

For many Catholics, this will set bells ringing. In one of the “secrets” of Fatima, the visionaries reported that Our Lady requested that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, and that if this were done, Russia would be converted and the world would know peace.

In case you missed it, we did an explainer on what it means to consecrate a country, what happened at Fatima, and what the popes have done since.

Most famously, on March 25, 1984, St. John Paul II solemnly consecrated the world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. While the pope’s text did not specifically mention Russia, some historians say that the pope privately added the word in his prayer.

Since then, there has been a small but vocal section of Catholics who have insisted that JPII basically didn’t do it right, despite Sr. Lucia, the Fatima visionary who relaid the request from Our Lady, saying he did.

My strong suspicion is that those same people won’t be satisfied by Francis’ effort; they seem to have a very narrow view of what is and isn’t acceptable to Our Lady, and will probably take anything short of Kirill crawling to Rome on his knees as proof this one hasn’t stuck, either.

For myself, I think that if it was good enough for Sr. Lucia, the 1984 consecration was just fine, but that renewing our plea for Mary’s intercession at this time cannot possibly be a bad thing. 

While I know her help to be real, I am not, however, expecting anything dramatic.

Vladimir Putin, Russian president, macho man, mink bait. Credit: Russian state propaganda.

That said, should March 25 find President Putin going for one of his shirtless pony rides and he be suddenly set upon and devoured by a pack of feral mink, or, if during a televised address he breaks out in spontaneous, violent, leprosy and his face dissolves on camera like a wheel of over-ripe cheese, I’ll be the first to credit the event to Herself. 

In the meantime, you can read here about what a consecration is.

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The end of the beginning

Pillar reader Cardinal Angelo Becciu finally got the first of his days in court yesterday. I could write an entire series of newsletters to mark the occasion, but I won’t visit that upon you. Let’s just get you caught up.

I previewed on Wednesday the kinds of questions Becciu was likely to face from the judges during his sessions before the court, including on his financial dealings with members of his family, his use of the international woman of mystery, Cecilia Marogna, and, of course, on the infamous London property deal. 

I also offered some modest predictions about how the cardinal might answer the judges: that he might claim channeling hundreds of thousands of euros into his brother’s personal bank account for ostensibly charitable purposes was accepted practice in the Vatican at the time; or that he might make some effusive protestations of innocence and transparency, and denounce his accusers, but claim the cover of state and pontifical secrecy when the questions got awkward.

As it happens, Cardinal Becciu opened his session Thursday by insisting on his innocence, and blaming a “false and vindictive” media campaign, organized by shadowy forces for unknown purposes, for the charges against him.

He went on to insist that transferring large sums of money into individuals’ bank accounts for charitable purposes is perfectly normal business practice in the Vatican, but claimed he couldn’t answer questions about the work done by Marogna, or what he paid her, because he is bound by the pontifical secret.

Obligingly, the judges have offered to check with the Secretariat of State about the applicability of pontifical secrecy to some of the questions they have for Becciu, and are set to resume questioning him next month.

Court is back in session on March 30, and we aren’t going to miss a day of what happens next. This is an historic trial, and we are going to keep delivering you a front row seat. If you’re new to the story, or just want a refresher, check out our comprehensive (ish) timeline.

A question of manners

Long-time readers know that while I was born in the U.S, I’ve spent most of my childhood, early adulthood, and married life living in London — I returned to the U.S. for good (probably) only in 2018. 

While there’s a lot that instinctively feels like “home,” learning to live in the United States as an adult remains a work in progress for me. 

A case in point: I am not exactly what you’d call an extrovert when it comes to social events. That isn’t to say I don’t want a bit of human society from time to time, but this week, things got a bit awkward. 

A friend of mine asked if we would be going to a party hosted by a couple we’d only met recently and I responded, not without misanthropic pleasure, that we were not invited. 

“Ah-ha,” he responded, but we were, and I should check my inbox for the “evite”. I checked, it wasn’t there, nor in the spam. 

“Ah-ha to you sweetcheeks,” I fired back (or words to that effect), “no we aren’t.”

There then followed a back and forth in which it emerged that 1) we appeared to be on the electronic guest list as a “not yet responded,” 2) we definitely had been invited because my email had been supplied by my friend, and 3) there is no obvious answer to why the invite hadn’t arrived.

Now, where I come from, the polite course of action in this situation is obvious: you close down the offending email account and move cities, so that you never run into each other and everyone is spared the awkwardness. This may, or may not, be how we came to move to Washington in the first place.

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But we have a baby now, and the thought of having to pack up all of the crap we’ve accumulated to service the child is more than I can bear. So, here we are. 

Obviously, the rudeness of failing to RSVP isn’t lessened by my not having received the invitation. But not actually knowing these people all that well — we do not, clearly, have each other’s contact details — the idea of getting their number and ringing up to RSVP to a party I only think we’re invited to gives me the same sensation as unanesthetized dentistry, or ABBA.

My friend suggested that I stop being an “ass”, or something similar, and just show up to this person’s house like some kind of criminal, or Dutchman. He was, I assume, raised by wolves. 

My wife, being a well-brought up Englishwoman, has the horrors about the whole idea of going somewhere without being “properly” invited, and at the potential for “awkwardness.”

The party is tonight. While I’m told there might be beef, I’m still undecided. I’m open to suggestions here.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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