It has been a big news week. And I already digressed into the area of moral theology and civility to comment on one of the rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court this week, i am not speaking of the rest (though, as a Catholic Christian, i believe universal access health care is a good, and capital punishment is not, so it was a pretty mixed bag all around).
Ecumenically, there have been a few interesting developments.
The General Synod of the United Church of Christ (USA) unanimously approved a full communion agreement with the United Church of Canada yesterday. The UCC and the UCC are both ‘united and uniting’ churches, themselves the products of previous ecumenical reunion efforts. The UCC (USA) already has similar agreements with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Union of Evangelical (read:Lutheran) Churches in Germany, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Two days ago, the Corriere della Sera published an interview with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate. He is quoted as saying that a meeting between Patriarch Kiril and Pope Francis “is getting closer every day”. Though this is his boilerplate response when asked about a meeting between the head of the largest Orthodox church with the bishop of Rome, he alluded that it was actually on the agenda – though no date is set, and it would certainly be in a ‘neutral’ location like
the Austro-Hungarian Empire Austria or Hungary. This meeting has been in discussion for 20 years, since the intended meeting between Alexy II and John Paul II was cancelled at the last minute.
And of course there was the annual delegation from the Phanar to the Vatican on the patronal feast of Rome, Sts. Paul and Peter. Leading the delegation this year was Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, who was also part of the panel presentation of the environmental encyclical Laudato Si. He and Metropolitan Hilarion were both in Rome this week as part of the drafting committee of a statement, “Towards the Understanding of Synodality and Primacy in the Church of the First Millennium” by the International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
Probably the most interesting, and potentially most dramatic, however, was the proposal of Patriarch Raphael I (Louis Sako) of Bablyon, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, who proposed a plan for a united Church of the East that would entail his own resignation.
The schism between the Church of the East and the rest of the orthodox Christian world is the oldest surviving division in the Church, its origins dating back to the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. It was the Christian Church in the Persian Empire, and has often (wrongly) been called Nestorian. Acknowledging that there is now brief way to do justice to the history of communion and schism between the Church of the East and the Catholic/Orthodox Church(es) in the last 1600 years, suffice it to say that what remains is a very small community based in Baghdad but effectively existing as a diaspora community, with its leaders often in Exile.
There are three current churches succeeding from that original Church of the East, which was founded, according to tradition, by the apostle Thomas and by Mar Addai (Jude/Thaddeus, maybe, or a disciple of Thomas) and Mari, a disciple of Addai.
The Assyrian Church of the East, whose Catholicos (Patriarch) Mar Dinkha IV died in March, consists of about 250,000 faithful, mostly in the U.S., Europe, and Oceania. The election of his successor has been postponed until September. The patriarchate went into exile to the United States in the 1930s. (The Assyrian Church is, to the best of my knowledge, the only ancient apostolic church where priests and deacons have been allowed to marry even after ordination; in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, married men could be ordained, but ordained men could not be married).
The Ancient Church of the East, whose Catholicos is Mar Addai II (since 1970!) numbers about 100,000 faithful and the patriarchate remains in Baghdad. From at least 1450 until 1976, the patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East had become a hereditary office, passing from uncle to nephew. In 1964, some members of the Assyrian Church used the official adoption of the Gregorian calendar as an opportunity to split from the rest, the underlying reason being objection to this hereditary practice and perhaps wanting to keep the hierarchy based in its ancient homeland.
The Chaldean Catholic Church was initially established in 1553 when a similar break-away faction of the Assyrian hierarchy (also objecting to a hereditary patriarchate) sought full communion with Rome, and over the next three centuries there was a great deal of fluidity back and forth, only stabilized about 1830. The Chaldeans number somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000, also mostly in diaspora. Patriarch Raphael I has been the primate of this church since 2013.
For the last three decades, there have been very successful ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, resulting in a Joint Christological Declaration in 1996, resolving the theological issue that had divided the churches of Rome and Persia back in the 5th century. Ten years later an agreement on sacraments was reached but not promulgated due to some internal issues. The only remaining issue holding back full communion was that of common ecclesiastical governance, and this is what Patriarch Raphael of the Chaldean Catholic Church has proposed to resolve now, if he and Patriarch Addy II both resign, and the bishops of all three churches come together to elect a single Catholicos-Patriarch.
Let us pray that this comes to fruition this year!
I would like to share some personal thoughts with those of others, since they may contribute to achieving the project of “the unity of the Church of the East”.
Unity is the commandment of the Lord Jesus, “so that they may be one” (John 17/11), and the demand of Christians who face significant challenges that threaten their existence in diaspora with assimilation, and in the motherland with extinction
I propose that we adopt a single denomination for the church: The Church of the East as it was for many centuries, and that we not maintain the factional denominations. The single denomination will give it strength and momentum, and it can become a model for other churches.
The communion of faith and unity with the Roman See is a fundamental base of unity. It is an increase of power, not a decrease, especially since there is no difference in doctrine, but only in its formal expression. Therefore, to think of disassembling the link of “the Church of the East” with the See of Rome would be a great loss and cause of weakness. Unity does not mean uniformity, nor the melting of our own church identity into one style, but it maintains unity in diversity and we remain one apostolic universal church, the Oriental Church, that maintains its independence of administration, laws and liturgies, traditions and support through respect for the authority of the Patriarch and the Synod of Bishops.
After deliberation and dialogue between the three branches and the acceptance of this communion with Rome:
1. The current Patriarchs: Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Mar Addai II, Patriarch of the ancient Church of the East, would submit their resignations without any conditions, but their desire for unity.
2. The Bishops of the three churches would meet to choose a new Patriarch.
3. The elected Patriarch should have assistants from each branch to enhance the “weft” (the permanent Synod).
4. The Patriarch and the Synod would leave national interests to the laity, because the church should be open to everyone and concerned with the best interests of all.
5. The Patriarch and the Synod would prepare for a General Synod to develop a new road-map for The One Church of the East.
[For the best guide to navigating the byzantine waters of Eastern Christianity, see Ron Roberson, The Eastern Christian Churches, now in its 7th Edition]
I took great delight in reading both of these passages from the recent Supreme Court decision overturning state bans on same-sex marriage.
Justice Kennedy’s opinion:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They as for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
Justice Scalia’s dissent:
‘The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality,’ “Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.
…The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.
Would any of my hippie friends like to comment on the abridgment of the Freedom of Intimacy? Justice Scalia is one of the most brilliant men i have ever met. I find myself disagreeing with his conclusions as often as not, but his clarity of thought is often undeniable. As is his acerbic wit.
For Catholic Christians, there is a right way and a wrong way to disagree with the #SCOTUS ruling against banning same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Let us say for a moment you are a Catholic Christian and you believe that marriage is part of the natural law, a primordial sacrament that has been part of the make-up of human society since the beginning, between one man and one woman, an expression of total love and fidelity, for life.
(And let us assume you are familiar with the Catechism’s section on the sixth commandment, or, better, the tradition of Christian moral thinking it attempts to summarize.)
I imagine that most of the world would not be surprised that this is your belief.
Now in the wake of the latest decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn laws banning same-sex marriage throughout the land, how do you respond?
Based on the entirely unscientific method of scanning my Facebook feed for an hour as I think about this, it seems nearly everyone falls into one of two camps: outright celebration or something ranging from grumpy disgust to hatred.
Of course, there are secularists who lump all religions or religious people in the same basket with the most hateful. There are those who suggest that the only possible reason for opposing this ruling is homophobia. Both sides have extremists and a lack of nuance. These are wrong too, but not the point of my post…
The right way, from a Catholic Christian point of view, has been shared by the likes of Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Bishop Gerald Kicanas, James Martin, SJ, Dan Horan, OFM, Elizabeth Scalia, and many others.
You can affirm the Christian position of marriage, affirm the sacramental nature of marriage, speak of the beauty of the primordial sacrament and the integral ecology of human nature – and then proceed to honor the Church’s teaching to love one another, to treat our LGBT sisters and brothers with “respect, sensitivity, and compassion”. You can choose to “light a candle, rather than curse the darkness”. You can choose to celebrate the good present in the decision, aware of its limitations.
The wrong way comes from those who speak of a “war on marriage”, that the judgement “harms the common good”, is “immoral and unjust”, is “anti-Catholic” or “a persecution of Christian freedoms”, to claim that “Love has lost”, or to refer to it as “a wrongly decided decision” (that primarily because of bad prose). To the Texas pastor who threatened self-immolation: get thee to an exorcist. Or a shrink.
The cringe-inducing, fear-mongering, and hate-filled rhetoric of some commentators – sadly, even including a few bishops and religious leaders – do more harm than good. Giving scandal, in this case encouraging homophobic violence or hatred, is a greater sin.
To liken this decision to Roe v. Wade and therefore to liken same-sex marriage to abortion is beyond the pale. One is about love and fidelity – even if, as a Catholic Christian, it is not sacramental marriage, or marriage in the proper sense; the other is about killing innocent children before they are born. There is no comparison.
To speak of same-sex marriage as an attack on heterosexual marriage is nonsensical; certainly it is unhelpful to the cause (as the cartoon below illustrates). No-fault divorce is an attack on marriage. A throw-away culture that encourages people to recycle spouses as readily, or more readily, than their smart phones is an attack on marriage. Pornography and Disney and The Bachelorette and every trashy romance novel ever written are attacks on marriage, with their unrealistic scenarios, false hopes, and impossible standards for success. As a Catholic Christian you might say that same-sex marriage is only a partial good – honoring the unitatve purpose of marriage if not the procreative – but you can celebrate the good that is there. Most Catholics i know would say committed monogamy in any form is better than the alternatives, morally speaking. Why be so afraid of recognizing the steps on the way to perfection that we all must take. Meet people where they are, and walk with them further. There are many kinds of civil marriages that the church does not recognize as sacramental, including a significant number among Catholics. This is no different, at that level.
Honestly, I have never understood the hatred that is tolerated in Christian circles when it comes to homosexuality. As a kid, at least from my perspective, the Church was always a place where everyone was welcome. Which is not to say the Church did not teach clearly what it thought was right and good and what it did not. But everyone is imperfect, we are all a pilgrim people: The Church is about field triage, not a social club for the elite, so everyone is welcome. Being Catholic and being homophobic were as mutually exclusive in my early years as being Catholic and being racist. I knew there were some fundamentalist Christians who seemed to preach hate, but I had never encountered it in the Catholic Church.
It was only at university – at Notre Dame – that I first encountered otherwise level-headed, loving, and reasonable Catholics who seemed to abandon reason and charity both when the topic of homosexuality came up. This is unacceptable.
God is love. God calls Christians to love. Not just to love those who vote as you vote, or read the same journals you read, or go to the same form of liturgy you attend, but to love our neighbors, our enemies, everyone. Only with love can you speak truth, and until you have the former, you cannot hope to find the latter.
Today marks the second anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as bishop of Rome. They have been, without question, the two most hope-filled years in a lifetime of study and service of the Church. Most people, including most Catholics, have rejoiced in Pope Francis’ style, simplicity, and dedication to reforming the Roman Curia.
It made for a great 35th birthday present, very slightly anticipated!
Sadly, this is not a consensus feeling among the faithful, perhaps particularly among Anglophones in Rome and those in positions of authority in the Roman Curia. A couple weeks ago, on the anniversary of the first papal resignation in six centuries, this pithy post showed up in my newsfeed:
..Two year’s ago today, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.
Thus beginning the craziest two years of our lives.
Papa Bennie, we miss you. …
I respect Pope Benedict, perhaps even more so because of his strength of character, as witnessed by the resignation itself. His ecclesiology and personality were both strong enough not to buy into the false mythology of a papacy that is more monarchy than episcopacy, or that requires clinging to power rather than absenting oneself from service when no longer able to serve well.
We all find resonance with different leaders, whether bosses or politicians, bishops or popes. It is natural that some people will like one more than the other, but I have a hard time understanding those who claim to be “confused” by Pope Francis, or who think that the last two years have been difficult for the Church.
A recent conversation with friends revealed, of course, those not satisfied with Pope Francis: On one side, the traditionalists who were given the keys to the kingdom under Benedict are now back to being treated as a minority in the Church – which is only fair, as they are, but I can commiserate with the feeling. On the other, genuinely liberal Catholics tend to be unhappy with the Holy Father’s language on women, not sure whether referring to (lay and religious) women theologians as “strawberries on the cake” is meant to indicate that they are mere decoration, or something more appreciative.
Neither side is confused: they know clearly what they do not like. Whether I agree with either side, they know where they stand and I respect that. It is the commentators claiming “confusion” who are not to be trusted. There is nothing confusing at all about a gospel message of mercy and humble service.
Nevertheless, for the broad swath in between liberals and traditionalists, the last two years have been like fresh air after decades of sitting on a Roman bus, stifling because the old-school Italians refuse to let the windows open lest we get hit by moving air and therefore damage our livers. Somehow. (What is the ecclesiological equivalent of a colpo d’aria?)
If the Good Pope opened the windows of the Church at Vatican II to let it air out a bit, it seems much of the trajectory of the last decades has been, if not to outright close them again, to pile up so many screens and curtains that the effect is nearly the same. Francis has opened it again to let the light and fresh air in. Sure, the dust gets blown about that way, but blame it on those who let the dust gather, rather than the one who starts the spring cleaning!
To be fair, if not concise, the analogy would extend to Benedict having attempted the same, only to discover that he did not have the strength. (Though, after years of investing in multiple layers of curtain lace, you ought not be surprised at the surfeit of suffocating material you then have to remove to get at the ‘filth’ hiding in the darkness provided thereby. But I digress.)
I have little doubt that Pope Benedict will be a Doctor of the Church someday, and in addition to his massive corpus of theological writings, his act of spiritual humility and demonstration of truly sound ecclesiology by resigning as bishop of Rome will be the reason it happens.
I have lived through two of the greatest papacies in recent centuries, but if there has been a truly good pope in my lifetime, it is Francis. Two years is nowhere near enough, may he live for twenty more, sound of mind and body, and bring to closure the reforms started fifty years ago. It is perhaps our best hope for unity in the Church, which in turn is the best hope for an effective witness to the Good News.
On Sunday, 1 March, somebody in Hungary became the 100,000th visitor to my humble little blog, which I started in October 2009 as I moved to Rome, to communicate with friends and family about travel and visits to the sites of the Eternal City, and to offer musings and commentary on Christian Unity and reform in the Catholic Church.
The more I try to write for my dissertation, though, the less frequently I write for the blog. When I started I averaged three posts a week. Now if I get three a month I am being productive. I noticed I have over 16,000 words of notes and half-written posts in my draft file. Like my dissertation, there is a lot of starter material that just needs time and focus to complete. Also like my dissertation, much of it will never see the light of day.
My first post spoke of the surprises in technology, liturgy, community life, and diet and exercise found upon arriving in Bella Italia.
By far the most read post was about Pope Francis lifting restrictions on married Eastern Catholic priests in the ‘diaspora’ – including the U.S., Australia, Canada, et al. That post alone was viewed 8,000 times. I would like to think the popularity is because of my brilliant prose and that it was an English-language scoop, but I know that the title “Married Catholic Priests coming to a Parish Near You” played a bit on hopes that this would include Latin, or Roman Catholic, priests as well as those serving our Eastern brothers and sisters.
Recent rumors try to suggest that Pope Francis might actually extend it in some way to the Latin Church, but i suspect there are so many people who do not understand the hierarchy of truths well enough that they would think this was an act worth breaking communion over, and as wrong as they are, there is no doubt that a good leader would tread carefully even to do the right thing before allowing the weak of faith to fall further into sin.
The most surprising moments included being introduced to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his ecumenical officer, who greeted me with “Oh, so you’re the one with the blog…!” (I got to see Bishop Jonathan again very briefly during the 50th anniversary celebrations of Unitatis Redintegratio, one of the great ecumenists I have been privileged to meet in these years).
Even after 5 1/2 years, there are still surprises to be found, new adventures in Rome. Just recently with a class walking over the Ponte Fabrico to Isola Tiberna, someone pointed out the marble faces adorning the bridge, which I have crossed dozens of times at least, and never noticed.
Or take the Station Churches, an ancient tradition like so many revived with the Second Vatican Council after being lost for some time before hand. While I have always managed to attend a few of the morning liturgies with the North American College, this is the first year I have been able to attend most of the official Italian liturgies in the afternoons. Photos here.
Now, some personal updating for friends and family:
Officially, the pontifical graduate degrees of License and Doctorate take two and three years respectively. My License took three, including almost a year’s worth of additional classes between the Berrie Fellowship and the extra requirements specific to the ecumenical section at the time (Most people doing an STL are required to take 24 classes in addition to comps and thesis; I took 36, and had credit for 9 more from previous graduate studies and experience). During the doctorate, I have worked two part time jobs and taught 2-3 classes a semester, so while I am still aiming for the three-year mark, I will accept if that just gets me to a good draft.
As I get ever closer to 40, the idea of settling into a permanent position gets more and more appealing. These five years in Rome mark the longest I have lived in one city since I was 16, and even then entails moving at least for every summer, and often not knowing where I will be more than a few months ahead. Recent job searches have revealed potential positions in Edinburgh, Basel, Geneva, Jerusalem, all over the US, and Antarctica. (Admittedly, the last one had nothing to do with theology, but who would not want to spend a few months dodging penguins in -15C weather after the Baroque excess and summer heat of Rome?)
Dear friends and colleagues, faithful readers and strangers who happened by while looking for images, thank you for your visit and your interest. I hope we will be seeing more of each other over the year to come! Happy Lent!
With a class this week explaining the college of cardinals and other aspects of the Catholic hierarchy to some undergrads, in honor of the weekend’s consistory creating 20 new princes of the Church, I found a few helpful resources worth sharing.
The Vatican’s website has upped its game, in offering some new statistics on the College of Cardinals. You can find lists by name, age, or nationality. Graphs indicating the distribution of cardinals according to the pope that appointed them, the percentage of electors vs. emeriti, or how many serve in the curia. The graph below breaks down membership according to geographical region.
The independent Catholic-hierarchy.com has already updated its lists, which can be sorted by various values.
The incomparable CGP Grey offers some illumination in his clip “How to become pope”, meant for popular consumption.
There are of course more academic articles, historical sources, and ecclesiological treatises, plus reform suggestions that range from adding women cardinals to eliminating the sacred college altogether. There are interviews with the new cardinals (one reporter shared that Italian colleagues were getting bent out of shape upon realizing that some of the new wearers of scarlet did not speak a word of Italian beyond “ciao”.)
One thing I could not find was a map indicating where the cardinals were from. Something to give visual aid to the question of a more globalized Church reflected in a more globalized college. So I created one.
Click on the (scarlet) pins to see basic information about each cardinal.
Residential cardinals – that is, those cardinal-presbyters who are bishops or archbishops of dioceses around the world – are located according to their See.
Curial cardinals – mostly cardinal-deacons serving in the Roman Curia – are located according to their place of birth (and they represent 28% of the total electorate).
There are options to see retired/over-80 cardinals, too, also organized by curia or diocese. Their pins are a lighter shade of scarlet (cough… pink… cough).
A couple of immediate observations, beyond the overcrowding of Italy, were some of the wide open areas without any: No Scandinavian cardinals, none from easternmost Europe or central Asia. For China, only Hong Kong.
In the US, all but one of the diocesan cardinals are from the eastern half of the country, and that even counts the retirees. There is a small corridor from the great lakes to the north Atlantic coast that accounts for the overwhelming majority of North American cardinals, leaving one thinking it might be time to move some of those pins to the likes of Vancouver, Seattle, Denver, Indianapolis or Atlanta. Or, if we want to go peripheral, maybe Tucson, Honolulu, and Juneau.
Would love to hear thoughts,take corrections, or hear it has been used by other teachers.