On any countdown of terrific Catholic stories over the last twenty years, the renaissance of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine would have to be near the top of the list. Numbering some five million faithful, about ten percent of the Ukrainian population, Greek Catholics follow Orthodox liturgical and spiritual traditions but have been in full union with Rome since the 16th century.
All Things Catholic
At first blush, most people probably assume that the sexual abuse crisis will result in tighter control from Rome over local bishops. The logic is impeccable: The failure of some bishops to do the right thing is a core element of the crisis, and only the pope can really hold bishops accountable.
Yet at the moment, the ecclesiological fallout from the crisis, especially in the United States, seems to cut in the opposite direction -- promoting the autonomy of individual bishops and of the bishops' conference, if not so much theologically and canonically, then psychologically and culturally.
Few Catholic bishops anywhere in the world have spent more time coping with the fallout from the sexual abuse crisis – pastoral, political, legal, and spiritual – than Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. When he became bishop of Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1992, he inherited the infamous James Porter case, and ten years later he took over an archdiocese in virtual meltdown when he succeeded Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston.
As fate would have it, Pope Benedict XVI's five foreign trips in 2010 are almost laid out in ascending order of difficulty. Last month's weekend stop in Malta, arguably the most Catholic society on earth, amounted to the warm-up act, while next week's four-day swing in Portugal, which so far has been spared the sexual abuse scandals which have engulfed the church elsewhere in Europe, should be a fairly smooth ride as well.
Earlier this week I was in Chicago to keynote the annual conference of the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, which is composed of folks struggling to help the church integrate contemporary best practices in human resources and business management. It’s largely unheralded work, but critical if the Catholic church is to avoid the administrative meltdowns that too often mar its public image and impair its moral authority.
Cardinal Dar'o Castrillón Hoyos must feel trapped in a "Twilight Zone" episode, in which, in a flash, the whole course of his life has turned out differently. Now 80, not long ago Castrillón was a consummate Roman powerbroker, a man admired for the nerves of steel that once allowed him to stand up to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez at one point hailed his fellow Colombian as "this rustic man, with the profile of an eagle."
Some years ago, after a speech he delivered in Paris drew a bit of negative reaction, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told friends he wasn’t worried. “I’m like the cellist Rostropovich,” he joked. “I never read the critics.”
That’s a policy Benedict XVI might want to preserve over the next few days, marking both his 83rd birthday today and the five-year anniversary of his papacy on Monday after a brief weekend stop in Malta. Especially in light of recent events, even the best reviews the pope’s likely to draw as these milestones roll by seem certain to be mixed.
As difficult as it is to talk about any Catholic subject these days other than the pope and the sexual abuse crisis, I'm going to give it a whirl, because there was another important storyline this week: In effect, the Vatican paved the way on Tuesday for the first Hispanic cardinal in the United States, as well as something of a new tone in the country's largest archdiocese.
More and more, I’m wondering if Karl Rove was right. Rove, of course, famously argued that the “independent voter” is a myth. Whatever they may tell pollsters, most Americans in their heart of hearts are clearly aligned with one side or the other, so the trick to winning elections is to turn out more of your base than the other side does of theirs.
Intense scrutiny is being devoted these days to Pope Benedict XVI's history on the sex abuse crisis. Revelations from Germany have put his five years as a diocesan bishop under a spotlight, and a piece on Thursday in The New York Times, on the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy of Milwaukee, also called into question his Vatican years as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.