Can the papacy somehow promote Christian unity?

A couple of pope-related notes…

Generally, I think it’s safe to say, the place and role of the pope in the Roman Catholic Church has been an obstacle to ecumenism — or non-Catholic Christian churches getting closer to, or somehow aligning with, Rome.

If other Christian traditions saw the Petrine Ministry as essential, after all, they might well go Catholic.

So I was interested to see that Father James Puglisi, minister general of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor, has received a Catholic Press Award for editing a 2010 book, “How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church?”

Yes, it is a title that does not sing.

I, for one, would be curious to know how the papacy might contribute to Christian unity. I don’t have the book, but have been trying to skim it on Amazon.

I stumbled on a chapter by Father Joseph Komonchak, a West Nyack native and a well-known and veteran theologian at Catholic University in Washington. It includes this great passage:


It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the Roman Catholic Church is regarded as a vast multinational religious corporation with central headquarters in Rome, branch offices in large cities, and retail shops, called parishes, dispensing spiritual goods. On this view, the pope is seen as the CEO of the firm. This view, I say, is rather widespread, and it can be found, almost taken for granted, among both progressives and liberals, among the laity, and among the clergy, including among some bishops.”


This “administrative view” of the church won’t fly with many Christians, he writes. He goes on to cover some difficult ground, including on the relationship between the universal church and individual churches. I won’t attempt to summarize it (nor could I), but Komonchak doesn’t seem to like the way Rome chooses bishops without diocesan input and drops them down from the outside.

He writes: “A theory and a practice that cannot acknowledge the local churches as full subjects in their own right cannot be correct.”

So here is an argument in favor of the pope’s administrative role being reduced — or the local church’s role being increased. Some non-Catholic Christians would certainly agree.

On a completely unrelated note, I was reading Bill Keller’s review in the NYT Book Review of “Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy” by John Julius Norwich.

Keller starts his review with this:


John Julius Norwich makes a point of saying in the introduction to his history of the popes that he is “no scholar” and that he is “an agnostic Protestant.” The first point means that while he will be scrupulous with his copious research, he feels no obligation to unearth new revelations or concoct revisionist theories. The second means that he has “no ax to grind.” In short, his only agenda is to tell us the story.


Now, Norwich may be scrupulous with his research and he may have no ax to grind. In fact, his book may be fantastic in every way.

But, unless I’m missing something, Norwich’s lack of scholarly standing does not mean that he will be scrupulous with his research. His status as an agnostic Protestant does not mean that he has no ax to grind.

He could well be an agnostic Protestant and popular historian who does lousy research and has a huge ax to grind.

I’m not saying he is. But he could be, right?

He’s still Archbishop Dolan to you

It’s official: Archbishop Dolan will have to wait.

Pope Benedict this morning named 22 new cardinals, including the two Americans who were considered to be favorites: Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, head of the Vatican’s highest court, and Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

Dolan is on the outside looking in because Cardinal Egan is only 78 and is eligible to vote for a pope until he turns 80. The Vatican does not like to have two cardinals from the same diocese voting in a conclave.

Wuerl has been archbishop of D.C. since 2006, but had to wait for his red hat because his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, didn’t turn 80 until July of this year.

Dolan should be a sure thing to see red in the next cardinal class, probably in two or three years.

He’s only 60, so he should have plenty of time to wear his eventual red vestments.

I didn’t see any predictions that Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore, a New Yorker with Westchester roots, would get a red hat. He’s already 71, but his predecessor, retired Cardinal William Keeler, will turn 80 next March.

You would think that O’Brien could have been slipped into this class. But some think that the archbishop of Baltimore may no longer be an automatic cardinal, with the country’s Catholic base redistributing itself, largely to the Southwest.

Anyway, Cardinal Egan released the following statement this morning:


It was with the greatest of pleasure that I learned today that His Excellency, The Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and His Excellency, The Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, are to be raised to the dignity of the Cardinalate by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.  I have known Archbishop Wuerl since his seminary days when I was serving on the faculty of the Pontifical North American College.  He was an outstanding seminarian and has proved to be a most zealous and dedicated priest, Bishop, and Archbishop.  Archbishop Burke I have also known for many years.  When he was doing his doctoral work in Canon Law in Rome, I was a Judge of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota and had many occasions to discuss with him Canon Law and his doctoral dissertation during its preparation.  He is a brilliant canonists and a most devoted Prefect of the Church’s highest tribunal on which I have the honor to serve.  Today I contacted both Archbishop Wuerl and Archbishop Burke to express to each of them my heartfelt congratulations and prayerful best wishes.


The new cardinals will be elevated at a consistory on Nov. 20

He’s in charge of an ‘outspoken’ priest

You may have heard that a Massachusetts priest called Sunday for Pope Benedict to resign because of his unwillingness to face the “truth” about clerical sex abuse.

The sermon by the Rev. James J. Scahill  has turned a spotlight on his boss — Bishop Timothy McDonnell, a very well-known guy in these parts.

McDonnell is a former Chappaqua pastor and vicar general of the Archdiocese of New York.

bishopmcdonnellHe was named the bishop of Springfield, Mass. and its 120 parishes in 2004.

I can’t find a statement on the Diocese of Springfield’s website, but the Springfield Republican writes this:


In a response issued Monday afternoon, Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell faulted Scahill for bringing up the issue on a Sunday meant to foster reconciliation and forgiveness in the church.

“There is a sad irony in that Father Scahill’s remarks were delivered on Divine Mercy Sunday,” said McDonnell, adding the church has expressed “tremendous sorrow, sadness and shame” about clergy abuse cases.

“The church leadership knows how difficult it is for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of clergy who should have been signs of God’s love rather than inflictors of pain,” the bishop said.” Here in the Diocese of Springfield, as in trouble throughout the United States and beyond, we are vigilant in the efforts undertaken to ensure such tragedies can never happen again.”


McDonnell has faced pressures before.

In 1990, he was assigned to clean things up at Covenant House in New York City after the Rev. Bruce Ritter, who founded the ministry for homeless youth, was accused of sexual misconduct.

Then McDonnell had to run Catholic Charities during a difficult economic period.

He pastored St. John and St. Mary Church in Chappaqua from 1993 until he was named an auxiliary bishop of New York in 2001. He served as vicar general of the archdiocese until being sent to Springfield, which was mired in scandal at the time.

Former Bishop Thomas Dupre had just resigned after allegations surfaced that he abused young people in the 1970s.

Now what does a bishop do with a priest who has called on the pope to resign?