News Analysis

Week in review

The big story of the past seven days

✣ Vatican intervenes at US bishops’ assembly

What happened?

Late afternoon on Sunday, the day before US bishops gathered in Baltimore, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the bishops’ conference president, received a letter from Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, asking the American bishops to delay voting on matters of abuse until after a February abuse summit in Rome. Cardinal DiNardo relayed news of the intervention to a stunned assembly of bishops on the first morning of the conference.

What the media are saying

The vatican’s move was roundly condemned on all sides. In an editorial, the New York Post called it a “grievous blow to Americans’ faith”. Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times, lamented its “tone-deafness and self-protectiveness”.

Fr Thomas Reese, in the National Catholic Reporter, said it was a “public relations disaster” that “contradicts everything Francis has said about
empowering bishops’ conferences”. It placed “unrealistic hopes” on February’s gathering of bishops’ conference presidents. “Four days will not be enough time,” he wrote. Mgr Charles Pope, writing at the National Catholic Register, said that, through his actions and “seeming resistance”, Pope Francis had “increasingly become the face of the scandal”, and that he was dismissing Americans’ concerns just as he did those of Chileans protesting against Bishop Barros. A “full inquiry or clear adjudication” on McCarrick is unlikely to come from Rome, he said. Americans, he argued, had to speak out more forcefully.

John Allen, writing at Crux, pointed out problems with the proposals the bishops were due to vote on. The independent panel to investigate abuse, for instance, would “cede a dubious amount of authority” to its six lay and three clergy members, giving them a “sort of joint power of supervision with the Pope”. The bodies risked being unaccountable. Other bishops, meanwhile, feared the bishops’ code of conduct would be “overly generic”, “leaving it unclear what it was bishops would be held accountable for either doing or not”. The proposals might not have been adopted anyway, Allen said.

The most overlooked story of the week

✣ Jesuits welcome return of controversial rector

What happened?

A Jesuit rector whose reappointment was blocked by the Vatican has been reinstated. Fr Ansgar Wucherpfennig was re-elected as rector of the Sankt Georgen Graduate School, Frankfurt, in February. At first, the Congregation for Catholic Education said it could not issue a nihil obstat (“no objection”), but it has now approved the appointment.

Why was it under-reported?

The row over Fr Wucherpfennig’s appointment has been a major story in the German press, but, with the notable exception of LifeSiteNews, the
Anglosphere has barely covered it – perhaps partly because of the language barrier. The controversy arose because of comments Fr Wucherpfennig made in 2016. He said passages condemning homosexuality in the Bible had been misread, and that St Paul was merely arguing for “free, egalitarian” relationships. He also said he had “serious questions” about limiting priestly ordination to men.

What will happen next?

His reinstatement is a victory for liberal voices in the German Church who had been outraged by the Vatican intervention. Fr Arturo Sosa, the Jesuits’ superior general, also welcomed the news. In a statement, he said Fr Wucherpfennig would “uphold the authentic Magisterium of the Church” and, “where his offices demand it”, present the entirety of Church teaching. But, the statement said, he will also continue to “present questions” about this teaching and he hoped that doctrine on contested issues would “continue to develop”.

The week ahead

Next Wednesday churches and cathedrals will be lit up in red in honour of persecuted Christians. The event, known as Red Wednesday, is organised by Aid to the Church in Need and will be marked across Britain and Ireland. It is also being observed in the United States – at the Episcopalian parish of Calvary-St George, in New York – and in Sydney’s Catholic cathedral.

the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham will be in Shrewsbury Cathedral next Thursday to Saturday. Next month it goes to Middlesbrough. The statue is on a two-year tour to prepare for the rededication of England as the Dowry of Mary.

what to do with churches that are no longer churches? That is the question being tackled at a Vatican conference next Thursday and Friday. The conference, entitled “God No Longer Lives Here?”, will offer guidelines for dealing with closed churches. It is being organised by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Italian bishops’ conference and the Pontifical Gregorian University.

The best of the web

✣ Highlights from the week online

Cage fighter recounts journey to Catholicism

Bas Rutten, a champion UFC fighter, has described his journey to the Catholic faith in a video posted on YouTube by Anthem Philly, a project of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Rutten, who was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2015, was bullied at school because of his extreme eczema, and stopped going to church when he was 12. He returned to the faith after working with Catholic actor Kevin James in the wrestling comedy Here Comes the Boom. James invited Catholic speakers on set, and Rutten went along to a talk. “I got sucked in – that was it, it changed my life.” He started reading the Bible for half an hour each day. “As soon as you start learning about [Catholicism], you’re hooked,” he said. Recognition from peers is important to us, he said. “Why don’t I want recognition from God and be the ultimate good guy? Be a badass, but on top of that be a very good person? I think there’s nothing more important.”

A cri de coeur that bishops must hear

Elizabeth Scalia wrote on that Melinda Henneberger’s “cri de coeur” at USA Today, in which she declared herself “done” with the Church, is “a scorching rebuke” to Catholic bishops. “Her piece is a stunningly naked and raw howl of authentic anguish from a woman who feels
betrayed beyond endurance.”

Henneberger felt particularly betrayed by the Church’s response to Cardinal McCarrick. “After ‘credible and substantiated’ allegations that the now former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had taken advantage of seminarians, assaulted an altar boy in 1971 and even, because evil knows no shame, abused the first child he had ever baptised, the accused was shipped off to the quiet of a Kansas friary … to pray, repent and, so far, stick to his story that he has done nothing wrong,” she wrote.

“Yes, that’s one angry woman, and she is far from alone,” said Scalia. Our bishops have let us down, she wrote. “I pray that Melinda and the many Catholics who are staying away from Mass will be able to pray it out, and come to realise that, as the psalmist warns, we ought never place our trust in princes.”

Liturgical black needs to make a comeback

On Shawn Tribe answered those who question the use of black as a liturgical colour, as “somehow contrary to Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead”. The Church’s liturgical year, he wrote, brings with it “times of feasting as well as times of fasting … times of
exuberance and joy and times of more sombre reserve, penance and mourning”.

He wrote: “The use of black, which corresponds to the recognition of sorrow and mourning, sin, death and judgement, is one manifestation or part of this fuller picture.

“On a symbolic and theological level, the sombre and reserved tone of black vestments can be understood as a reminder of the sorrowful reality of sin (personal and original) and the reality of death which entered the world with the Fall.”

He concluded: “As a symbol, then, black is not only appropriate, it is also entirely desirable.”


✣ A cat who met Pope Benedict XVI and published a book has died aged 19.

Pushkin, who had been suffering from thyroid problems, met Benedict XVI at the Birmingham Oratory, where he lived for most of his life, in 2010. When Pushkin began to miaow loudly, Benedict is reported to have replied: “Aren’t you pretty, aren’t you pretty? What’s his name? How old is he?” Pushkin, wearing a ribbon in the papal colours of yellow and white, extended a paw and is said to have maintained “a dignified and prayerful silence”.

While Benedict has published about 70 works of philosophy and theology, Pushkin was the author of Pontifical Puss: Tails of an Oratory Cat,
a ghostwritten memoir with a foreword by Princess Michael of Kent.

Fr Anton Guziel, who arrived at the Oratory with Pushkin in 2005, described him as a natural Oratorian, “a community-minded pussy” who liked to join the Oratory Fathers at table or at recreation.

The response to his death has been heartfelt. “A lot of people have been phoning,” Fr Guziel said.

Kipper Williams cartoon

The week in quotations

This is not a sociological option or a pontifical fad. It is a theological requirement
Pope Francis on helping the poor

What are people to make of our silence?
Bishop Cary of Baker, addressing US bishops
Catholic News Agency

I am deeply sorry. I apologise
Archbishop Longley in testimony to Britain’s child abuse inquiry
Catholic News Service

My cure was like the resurrection of Lazarus
Matteo Pio Colella on a healing he attributes to the intercession of Padre Pio
Catholic News Agency

Statistic of the week

Proportion of people in western Europe who support legal abortion in all or most cases
Pew Research Center