Week in Review

The big story of the past seven days

Speculation swirls over ousted Memphis bishop

What happened?
Pope Francis has dismissed Bishop Martin Holley from the Diocese of Memphis, with no public explanation. A Vatican spokesman said the reason was not related to abuse, but to management of the diocese. An apostolic visitation took place this June.

Last year Bishop Holley reassigned around two thirds of the 60 active priests in his diocese. He also brought in a Canadian priest and exorcist, Mgr Clement Machado, as vicar general and chancellor of the diocese.

What commentators are saying
Catholic media outlets were soon awash with speculation. Most commentators noted that Bishop Holley’s management style was disliked by some of his priests. But the story has some curious aspects. For instance, before moving to Memphis, Holley was an auxiliary bishop under the now disgraced Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. And Mgr Machado resigned a week after the visitation, according to Catholic World Report, “ostensibly to complete his academic studies and care for his ailing mother”.

At Catholic Culture, Philip Lawler remarked: “Mix and match those few facts, add a generous dollop of speculation, and you should be able to concoct at least a half-dozen plausible theories. Was Bishop Holley caught up in the McCarrick scandal? Did the priests of Memphis rebel against him? Was Mgr Machado the source of the trouble? Had he discovered something sinister in the diocese – some reason for sweeping changes? Was there some other sort of scandal?” Any of those possibilities, Lawler said, would match the few available facts.

Bishop Holley, who was appointed to Memphis in 2016, rejected the mismanagement explanation, saying: “I was putting in order things that were so messed up here.” Speaking to the Catholic News Agency, he alleged that his removal was an act of revenge by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, because Holley had expressed concern about Wuerl’s fitness for the position of Vatican secretary of state in 2012; Wuerl was not appointed to the post. The cardinal has not yet responded.

China destroys two Catholic shrines

What happened?
China has torn down two shrines dedicated to Our Lady, just weeks after the Holy See signed an agreement with China over the long-disputed issue of appointing bishops. With one shrine the reason was “too many crosses” and “too many holy paintings”; the authorities said the other shrine lacked the proper building permits.

Why was it under-reported
For the Western secular media this is something of a non-story. Why would their readers be interested in a spat between an authoritarian country and a religious community over a few buildings? It may seem insignificant compared to other human rights abuses, in China or elsewhere.

Also, this is an issue which has been going on for many years. In Zhejiang province alone, more than 1,500 churches had their crosses demolished or removed between 2014 and 2016. So far as the media are concerned, this continuing story isn’t “news”.

What will happen next?
Despite the historic agreement between China and the Holy See, Beijing seems bent on pursuing its long campaign of “sinicisation”. Anything that smacks of a different culture is seen with suspicion, and only tolerated up to a certain point. To the authorities, it seems irrelevant that these two shrines were used by both the official and underground Catholic communities. There is no sign that Beijing’s dislike of “foreign” influence, and especially open religiosity, will abate, and so the vandalism will continue.

The week ahead

Archbishop Anba Angaelos, the first Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, and Archbishop Kevin McDonald, Emeritus Archbishop of Southwark, will pray Vespers together in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Mayfair, next Tuesday at 6.15pm. Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the UK, will preach.

Pope Francis will preside at a Holy Mass for the repose of the souls of the cardinals and bishops who have died over the course of the year. The Mass will be celebrated at 11.30 am tomorrow (Saturday), in St Peter’s Basilica.

The Day of the Dead (All Souls’ Day) is celebrated today throughout Mexico, and by Mexicans around the world. The faithful create altars to remember friends and families who have died. People also bring toys for dead children and bottles of tequila or other drinks for dead adults. The Day of the Dead (pictured) is the culmination of a three-day festival.