Unresolved questions at year’s end

The Pope with ousted Order of Malta Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing (Getty)

As 2017 comes to an end, it’s time to clear out the columnist’s notebook of those items that were noteworthy but never quite grew up to be columns. Perhaps they may do so in 2018.

◻ What happened to the Knights of Malta? The year opened with a blazing controversy over the Pope’s decision to fire the head of the previously-thought-to-be sovereign order. Has the order been renewed? What was the scandal that required the removal of the Grand Master? Has justice been served? Is anyone paying any attention?

◻ At the end of the liturgical year Pope Francis held the first World Day of the Poor, a worthy initiative to emphasise the centrality of the poor in the Gospel.

It might be time to judiciously prune the other World Days that have been established by the Vatican over the years, to give better attention to priorities such as the poor, or youth. World Youth Day is the best known of the Vatican “days”, but here is a partial list of other World Days: Peace, Communications, Prayer for Vocations, Sick, Consecrated Life, Sanctification of Priests, Migrants and Refugees, and Food. Under St John Paul II there was also a World Day for Tourism and a World Day for Literacy, but those seem not to have endured. Perhaps the pruning has already begun.

◻ We might need to make room for a World Day for Diplomats, the favourite priests of Pope Francis. He signalled that early on when he abolished the honorary title “monsignor” for parish priests under 65, but kept it for fortysomethings in the diplomatic corps. This year he created a “third section” of the Secretariat of State, increasingly powerful now that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has been sidelined. The third section is to provide better spiritual and professional care for the Holy See’s diplomats. Ordinary priests have the Congregation for the Clergy. One of Pope Francis’s first curial appointments was to put in charge of that congregation the head of the Vatican training academy for priest diplomats.

◻ The appointment of a new archbishop for the world’s largest diocese, Mexico City, was a distinctively Francis touch. He named Carlos Aguiar Retes to Mexico, having already made him a cardinal in November 2016. Cardinal Aguiar was then Archbishop of Tlalnepantla, one of those dioceses that had never had a cardinal before. Pope Francis had evidently decided a year ahead of time that Cardinal Aguiar would be the new archbishop in Mexico City. The same thing was done when Joseph Tobin was made a cardinal in Indianapolis, Indiana, only to be subsequently transferred to Newark, New Jersey, just across the river from New York. Cardinals in peripheral places may not stay there.

◻ The motu proprio of Pope Francis on liturgical translations, Magnum Principium, gave more authority to episcopal conferences. The bishops of England and Wales said “thanks, but no thanks”. They decided not to open that can of words. Learned voices, including that of Professor Eamon Duffy, thought that they should do so. It will be interesting to see which countries opt to go down that path in 2018. Substantive philological issues aside, it may well be that those bishops not particularly seized with the Holy Father’s call to missionary discipleship will opt for another round of liturgical translations. There is nothing quite like arguing over the liturgy to keep one comfortably ensconced in the sacristy.

◻ Professor Duffy doesn’t like “latinate technical terms” like “oblation” and “supplication”, preferring simpler English words. I happen to like oblation and supplication, but he does have a point. More than 20 years ago when I was at Cambridge and occasionally ran across Duffy at Fisher House, he told me that one of his favourite liturgical lines was from the third Eucharistic Prayer: Ecclesiam tuam, peregrinantem in terra, which is translated as “your pilgrim Church on earth”. I would agree that the latinate “your Church, peregrinating on earth” would be a poor alternative translation, if you forgive the latinate term. It would make it seem like the Church was going around in circles, which is what the English bishops are likely trying to avoid.

◻ The decision by Pope Francis to give the Buenos Aires guidelines on Amoris Laetitia a magisterial upgrade from Vatican website steerage to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis business class prompted Cardinal Walter Kasper to speak up after having an otherwise rather quiet year. Kasper pronounced the whole “tiresome” matter resolved. The eminent theologian is getting less patient as he ages. For more than 20 years Kasper pushed his view of Holy Communion for the civilly divorced and remarried, despite being on the wrong side of two apostolic exhortations, decrees from the CDF and the Council for Legislative Texts, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But hardly 20 months after the highly contested and ambiguous Amoris Laetitia, he is tired of waiting for the entire Church to march to the beat of the Buenos Aires drummer.

◻ I am always a little embarrassed to confess that The Little Drummer Boy is my favourite Christmas song. It’s not a hymn I would propose for Mass, but its piety is heartwarming. Is that not what all of us try to do, including column writers? To play for the Baby Jesus, encouraged by the Blessed Mother? A blessed Christmas to all!

Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of

This article first appeared in the December 22 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here