News Analysis

Week in review

Cardinal Cupich (Getty Images)

The big story of the past seven days
✣ Organisers of February abuse summit named

What happened?

The Vatican has named the organising committee for February’s abuse summit in Rome. The panel, decided by Pope Francis, includes two of the Church’s top authorities on abuse, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Fr Hans Zollner, as well as Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, a member of the Pope’s Council of Cardinals, and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. Notably absent from the line-up was Cardinal Seán O’Malley, often seen as the US episcopate’s most credible voice on abuse.

What commentators are saying

The appointments were not universally well received. Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, writing on Twitter, said he was “disheartened” by the line-up. Bishop Stika argued that younger American bishops had been “vocal about what needs to be done”, while many of the more senior prelates “are tainted or don’t represent well the mind of the people who are the backbone of the Church”.

The Chicago Sun-Times, meanwhile, noted that Cardinal Cupich had
recently “caused uproar” with comments related to the abuse scandal when he said the Pope had a “bigger agenda” than to respond to the Viganò allegations. (He later apologised for his “poor choice of words” and clarified he did not mean to refer to the abuse crisis as a whole.)

John Allen, writing at Crux, said it was hard not to read the omission of Cardinal O’Malley as a snub. He suggested that it might be an issue of policy: that the Pope favoured holding bishops accountable via the traditional structure of metropolitan bishops rather than lay-led commissions – a solution proposed by Cardinal Cupich at the US bishops’ assembly.

In a separate post, he noted another potential problem with the line-up: it was very Western. “There’s no prelate or adviser from Africa, from Latin America, from the Middle East, from Eastern Europe, or anywhere else,” he wrote. A bishop leading an “impoverished and violence-scarred diocese”, and seeing clergy risk their lives every day, is likely to be more reluctant to engage with the abuse crisis, Allen argued – making it difficult to get the world’s bishops on the same page.

The most overlooked story of the week
✣ Gunmen spray bullets at church, killing priest

What happened?

A kenyan priest serving in the conflict-torn south-west region of Cameroon has been shot dead in the doorway of his church, allegedly by government soldiers. Fr Cosmas Omboto Ondari is the second priest to be killed in a struggle between English-speaking separatists and the military. A seminarian was also shot dead last month.

Why was it under-reported?

Cameroon’s crisis is largely confined to its national borders, without the wider political implications of, say, the crisis in Yemen. But it has caused chaos in the country, and 300,000 have so far fled to Nigeria. The priests’ murders hint at the viciousness of the fighting. Bishop Andrew Nkea of Mamfe said. Fr Ondari was killed by government soldiers “shooting at random” from a passing truck. He counted 29 bullet holes in the church. “The forces of evil are on a rampage against the Church of God,” he said. He called for Catholics to stay calm and united in prayer.

What will happen next?

The military has denied involvement in the killing, but that may not be the end of the story: the priest was Kenyan, and Kenya’s foreign ministry has said it is seeking answers.
For the Anglophone parts of Cameroon, no end to the violence is in sight. The country’s bishops have called for dialogue, but Paul Biya, the country’s dictator who was dubiously re-elected last month, is continuing a crackdown. Hope still rests with the Church: the UN’s International Crisis Group has said it is the “only actor” influential enough to prevent a war.

✣ The week ahead

The incorrupt heart of St John Vianney is touring the United States. The heart, removed 45 years after the saint’s death, will be in New Orleans this weekend before heading to Pensacola in Florida, Birmingham Alabama, and Atlanta. Next weekend it goes to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington. Visit

George Weigel is coming to London. The John Paul II biographer will be giving a talk entitled “Democracy and its Discontents: Catholicism and Public Life in Turbulent Times” at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary, Haverstock Hill.

Venezuela’s cardinal will celebrate a Mass of hope in the city of Caracas
tomorrow. Cardinal Baltazar Porras said it was a “precious moment” to pray for “the awakening of faith and hope in Venezuelans”. In a video message he said prayer and caring for others could help “overcome the darkness”. About three million Venezuelans have fled the country during its economic crisis.

The best of the web
✣ Highlights from the week online

A fighter who’d cook you a cheeerful dinner

At Whispers in the Loggia, Rocco Palmo looked back on the career of Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, who died last week aged 71.

Some highlights of Bishop Morlino’s public interventions were “the Sunday morning homily in the midst of the 2008 campaign that turned into a spontaneous diatribe against [pro-abortion politician] Nancy Pelosi; his blast of the liberal anthem ‘All Are Welcome’ as a lie unsuited for liturgical use; the early depiction of his wildly progressive turf’s civic attitude as being ‘highly comfortable with virtually no public morality’, and his warning to graduates that ‘your peers in this generation and so many others are running toward hell with much more enthusiasm and strength than so many mediocre people are running toward heaven’ ”.

Bishop Morlino was certainly a fighter, Palmo wrote. But “even if Morlino’s zingers made it sound like he’d chew your leg off (if not both), in reality, odds were he’d end up cooking you dinner instead… and sitting down to eat in an open shirt, still wearing his apron – then running back and forth to serve everything himself.” The bishop did much for “youth ministry and engagement”, and vocations rose to impressive levels.

Why US exorcists are ever more in demand

At the Atlantic, Mike Mariani asked why the demand for exorcisms is rising in the US. There are no official statistics, and dioceses tend not to publish the name of their appointed exorcist. But anecdotal evidence suggests a rise: “Father Vincent Lampert, the official exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, told me in early October that he’d received 1,700 phone or email requests for exorcisms in 2018, by far the most he’s ever gotten in one year. Father Gary Thomas – a priest whose training as an exorcist in Rome was documented in The Rite, a book published in 2009 and made into a movie in 2011 – said that he gets at least a dozen requests a week. Several other priests reported that without support from church staff and volunteers, their exorcism ministries would quickly swallow up their entire weekly schedules.”

Mariani noted possible explanations, including the growing interest in the occult. Exorcists warn the public that “magic, divination, witchcraft, and attempts to communicate with the dead” can easily open the door to demonic activity.
A warning from a Chinese rights activist at The Public Discourse, the Chinese human
rights activist Chen Guangcheng expressed his dismay at the China-Holy See deal. “This is a regime that will use any means to maintain its monopoly on power.” Chen wrote. “It is also a regime that knows how to present itself to the West, saying and doing the right things to draw support from leaders abroad.”

Chen, who was born blind, campaigned against forced abortion in China and was sentenced to house arrest. He fled to the US. Letting the Communist Party choose bishops, Chen said, is “the equivalent of bowing before evil”. And the Party’s “recognition of the Pope is as paltry a concession as admitting the sky is blue”.

✣ Meanwhile…

A contactless payment device has been installed in Almudena Cathedral in Madrid.
The touch screen device, which resembles a lectern, allows donations to be made via contactless card or phone. It is expected to be introduced into more than 100 cathedrals and parishes in Spain. According to the Madrid-based Periodista Digital, it was developed by Banco Sabadell in collaboration with MasterCard. In March the Church of England announced it would be rolling out portable card readers to 16,000 churches after a successful trial involving 40 churches last year. A spokesman for the start-up IZettle, which helped to develop the devices, said churchgoers could now make donations in “whatever way suits them best”.

Pictures have emerged of the actor John Malkovich in papal robes and white zucchetto, giving a blessing to the faithful from a balcony. The 64-year-old actor is apparently taking on the role of the pontiff in an HBO series, The New Pope, a sequel to The Young Pope. The fate of Jude Law’s character, an American pope with the title Pius XIII, is unknown. Malkovich, bearded and looking severe, is pictured extending his arm in blessing from what appears to be the balcony of St Peter’s.

Kipper Williams cartoon

The week in quotations

Consumerism is a psychiatric disease
Pope Francis at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae

My sense of self-worth does not depend on an office in the Church
Former Vatican doctrinal chief Cardinal Müller
The Dutch newspaper Trouw

The Devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat
Cameroon’s Bishop Andrew Nkea after a priest was murdered
Statement to faithful

The denial of the Body of Christ is a stab in the heart German priest
Fr Johannes zu Eltz on Communion for Protestant spouses

Statistic of the week

Number of abortions in the US in 2015 – the lowest recorded figure
Source: CDC report