1. Online Worship Tested Some Churches’ Faith, By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, June 22, 2020, Pg. A16

Catholic Church leaders are grappling with how to manage what promises to be a long transition to normalcy from lockdown, encouraging their followers to return to in-person worship while recognizing the continuing health risks from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The internet remains the safest option for the elderly and other vulnerable church members until the pandemic ends.

But some worry that online worship is a poor substitute for physical assembly in maintaining the unity of faith communities.

Pope Francis, whose normally private morning Masses were live-streamed daily by the Vatican during the lockdown, voiced his disquiet over the practice during a homily in April.


2. Say what you will about the Vatican, there’s no denying its sense of drama, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, June 22, 2020, Opinion

But fair’s fair, so if we’re going to moan about the Vatican – and, in many ways, isn’t that the favorite indoor sport of Catholics everywhere? – we also need to acknowledge its strengths, and high on that list has to be its remarkable sense of drama.

The thought comes to mind in light of a Saturday essay on the Italian version of the HuffPost by an Italian playwright, stage and screen director and screenwriter by the name of Massimiliano Perrotta.

Perrrotta, let’s be clear, is no lapdog of the Catholic Church. Yet when he was asked by the HuffPost to pen a piece about the coronavirus experience seen through the lens of theater, he didn’t hesitate to name Pope Francis’s haunting Urbi et Orbi blessing staged March 27 in an empty St. Peter’s Square as the single most dramatically apt moment.

In terms of numbers, more than 17 million Italians watched the Urbi et Orbi blessing that Friday evening, which is roughly a quarter of the entire national population. It was good enough for a 65 percent share of the country’s TV audience at that hour, making it the highest rated single broadcast during the coronavirus quarantine.

For those with long memories, it was another example of the Vatican serving up exactly the right imagery and symbolism to capture a powerful moment.

Catholicism is a sacramental faith, in which adherents believe visible signs communicate invisible grace, and it’s also deeply liturgical, with a keen sense of rite and ritual. Perhaps that’s why headquarters also has such a good eye for drama, seemingly always knowing how to stage a cathartic scene in the just-right moment.

However one explains it, no one who experienced the coronavirus in Italy will ever forget that March 27 evening, and they’ll be joined by countless millions others around the world who watched at a distance.

Say what you will about the Vatican, that’s no mean feat – just ask Massimiliano Perrotta and his colleagues, who probably wish they could pull off such an iconic scene just once in their careers.


3. The perils of overactive imaginations as two brothers say goodbye, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, June 21, 2020, Opinion

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a surprise trip by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI to his native Bavaria to be with his dying brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, seems to be stoking fevered political and religious imaginations.

Since the trip was announced Thursday, Benedict’s first outside Italy since his resignation seven years ago, various versions of the following theories have bubbled up in the German and Italian press, as well as in on-line discussions.

For the record, the Vatican has denied that Benedict won’t be coming back, but as ever, that hasn’t stopped anyone from gaming scenarios.

As it turns out, the speculation was short-lived since the Diocese of Regensburg announced today that Benedict XVI will return to Rome tomorrow morning.

It’s tempting to dismiss such obviously premature scenarios as silly, except for two points.

First, we’re talking about a 93-year-old man making perhaps the final trip of his life to be with the person to whom he’s closest on this earth before he dies. It would be nice if Benedict could do so without having to ponder the politics of the situation, and without feeling pressure to cut the trip short or do something else because of anxiety over popular reaction.

Second, all of this also helps explain why the emeritus pope hasn’t been living in Regensburg with his brother all along.

When Benedict XVI retired in 2013, according to several senior churchmen who were close to the pope, his original hope was to return to Regensburg and resume a sort of private life. He had to be persuaded, according to those sources, to remain in the Vatican.

In part, the argument boiled down to simple logistics, since in the Vatican he’d already have security and support staff, whereas all that would have to be built from scratch in Regensburg. In part, however, the argument was also based on politics – by remaining in the Vatican, the theory held, Benedict would be less of a distraction to his successor because no one would think he was setting up a rival papal court, and it would be harder for people to exploit him as an alternate source of authority.

In the meantime, however, the point is that Church politics and overactive imaginations arguably already have cost Benedict eight years he could have shared with his brother, in a far deeper way than talking on the phone and seeing one another a couple times a year. (Of course, Georg could have joined his brother in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae monastery, but that would have meant abandoning Bavaria.)

There’s an irony somewhere in all this about it being precisely the people ostensibly most concerned about the independence of the papacy who, by chronically over-interpreting everything, end up pressuring popes and constraining their choices perhaps more than anybody else.

But for now, perhaps the most immediate take-away is that this would be a good time to take a step back, go silent except for prayer, and let this intimate human drama play out. Rest assured, once the Ratzinger brothers have said their final good-byes, there will be plenty of time to joust, if we must, over what it all meant.


4. Publisher: Cardinal Pell’s Prison Journal Will Be ‘Spiritual Classic’, By Catholic News Agency, June 21, 2020

The publisher of the prison diary of Cardinal George Pell said the text reveals the courage, conviction, and Christian charity of the cardinal.

“This journal reveals the Cardinal Pell I know and that every faithful Catholic should get to know,” Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, of Ignatius Press told CNA June 20.

Cardinal Pell “proclaimed Christ and the Church’s moral teachings without fear and with full knowledge of what the cost would be. And he paid the price with good humor and, like Christ, a love of his enemies,” Fr. Fessio added.


5. Cardinal Pell to publish prison diary musing on case, church, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, June 20, 2020, 3:31 PM

Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican finance minister who was convicted and then acquitted of sexual abuse in his native Australia, is set to publish his prison diary musing on life in solitary confinement, the Catholic Church, politics and sports.

Catholic publisher Ignatius Press told The Associated Press on Saturday the first installment of the 1,000-page diary would likely be published in Spring 2021.


6. Pope hails Italy virus doctors, nurses as heroes at Vatican, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, June 20, 2020, 7:35 AM

Pope Francis welcomed doctors and nurses from the coronavirus-ravaged region of Lombardy to the Vatican on Saturday to thank them for their selfless work and “heroic” sacrifice.

Francis dedicated one of his first post-lockdown audiences to Italy’s front-line medical and civil protection personnel, telling them that their example of professional competence and compassion would help Italy forge a new future of hope and solidarity.

During the audience, Francis also took a dig at some conservative priests who chafed at lockdown measures, calling their complaints over church closures “adolescent.”


7. Pope Francis adds “Comfort of Migrants” to Mary’s titles, By Elise Ann Allen, Crux, June 20, 2020

Pope Francis has given the Virgin Mary three new titles, the Vatican announced Saturday, which will be added to the Catholic Church’s traditional “Litany of Mary,” including one that reflects a signature preoccupation of this pope.

The new titles are “Mother of Mercy,” “Mother of Hope,” and “Comfort of Migrants.”


8. US bishops may want to look to Burundi as they ponder 2020 race, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, June 19, 2020, Opinion

Although it’s occasionally difficult to remember, given everything else going on right now, there still is a presidential election scheduled in the US for November. Once again, it seems likely to create awkward moments for the country’s Catholic bishops.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is a pro-choice Catholic, which means that just like 2004, when the Democrats nominated fellow pro-choice Catholic John Kerry, bishops will have to make tough decisions about how to register disapproval while, at the same time, not reducing the election to a referendum on one issue or making the Church and themselves look partisan.

Though no one expects a replay of what wags dubbed the “wafer wars” of 2004, in part because the climate in the Church is different under Pope Francis, the question of how to engage a Catholic candidate with whom they disagree on core matters still seems destined to haunt the American bishops over the next few months.

As they ruminate, US prelates might want to take a look at Burundi as an intriguing test case. Granted, the differences between the US and Burundi in terms of population, development and culture are vast, but while every analogy is inexact, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn.

Yesterday, a 52-year-old former soldier and father of six named Evariste Ndayishimiye was sworn in as the new president of Burundi, a landlocked nation in Africa’s Great Rift Valley with a population of almost 12 million.

Ndayishimiye is the protégé and hand-picked successor of President Pierre Nkurunziza, who ruled the country for three five-year terms since 2005, and the new president was sworn in two months ahead of schedule because of his mentor’s unexpected death on June 8.

Burundi is about 65 percent Catholic, making it one of Africa’s most heavily Catholic countries as a percentage of population. Nkurunziza, though born to a Catholic Hutu father, is a born-again Christian, part of the vast Evangelical and Pentecostal wave that washed over sub-Saharan Africa during the past half-century. Ndayishimiye, by way of contrast, describes himself as a “fervent” Catholic.

Despite his religious affiliation, Ndayishimiye has had a decidedly contentious relationship with the country’s bishops conference, which was strongly critical of Nkurunziza’s decision in 2015 to pursue a third term despite a peace deal ending a long-running civil war that limited the president to two terms.

Despite the tensions, the country’s Catholic leadership turned out for Ndayishimiye’s swearing-in ceremony yesterday and offered prayers for the new leader.

What’s interesting, seen through American eyes, is that the Burundian bishops have not framed their differences with Ndayishimiye in terms of his religious affiliation. They’ve strongly criticized the behavior of his regime, but not suggested that he has a special responsibility to pay heed because he’s Catholic. So far as we know, no bishop in Burundi has denied Ndayishimiye communion, or threatened to do so, for non-compliance.

Perhaps that’s simply because in a largely Catholic country, there’s nothing especially remarkable about a particular politician happening to be Catholic. For whatever reason, the bishops of Burundi have managed to avoid the impression that they’re engaged in a confessional struggle or attempting to assert their authority.

It remains to be seen whether the apparent choice by Burundi’s bishops not to make an issue out of a politician’s religion will afford them any greater leverage than America’s bishops have been able to exercise with pro-choice Catholic politicians in the US.

However, it may shape the perceptions Burundians have of their bishops, and that in itself may be instructive.


TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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