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The most bizarre presidential campaign in perhaps the entire history of the United States will culminate Tuesday.
It’s well known that the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and her
Republican opponent, Donald Trump, are both extremely unpopular among
many members of their respective political parties.
The U.S. bishops, by and large, have depicted them as equally unacceptable
to Catholic voters because the positions of each of the candidates are
inimical to various aspects of the church’s social or moral teachings.
But the so-called culture warriors in the American episcopate, like
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, have been none too subtle in
saying that a candidate who supports legalized abortion (despite the
fact it has been the law of the land since 1973) is always worse than
one who opposes it. And by doing so, they effectively have signaled support for Trump.
The prospect of a Trump presidency has sent shivers up the spines of
most officials in the Vatican. The Americans who work in the Roman
Curia, however, are among a small minority of the Rome-based church
bureaucrats who would actually like Trump to win.
That does not mean the Vatican will be delighted if Hillary Clinton
is the next president. The former first lady and secretary of state has
always had a frosty relationship with the Vatican, dating back to the
In 1994, she led the U.S. delegation to the UN population summit in
Cairo and clashed bitterly with the Holy See delegation over efforts to
guarantee “reproductive rights” for all women throughout the world.
Clinton lost that fight but Vatican officials continued to view her as
an adversary a year later in Beijing when she addressed the UN summit on
women and repeated her earlier appeal, though in a toned-down manner.
Interestingly, Clinton never once visited the Vatican or met with
Pope Benedict XVI during her four years as secretary of state
(2009-2013). She was the first person in that office to snub the Holy
See in some forty years, dating back to 1969-1973, when William Rogers
held the post in the first Nixon administration.
But it seems Vatican officials would be more than willing kiss and make up with Hillary if she were to win the election.
“One of our real concerns is who she will appoint as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See,” one high-ranking official told me.
“You are really that confident that she’s going to get elected?” I asked.
The official replied with a very serious look.
“She has to,” he said. “The other option would be a disaster for the entire world.”
Pope Francis has once again deeply disappointed Catholics who believe
their church should ordain women to the ministerial priesthood.
During his flight back from a truly groundbreaking visit to Sweden
(all he did was became the first pope in history to commemorate the
Protestant Reformation at a joint prayer service with Lutheran bishops,
including one who was a woman), a Swedish reporter asked Francis if the
Catholic Church would ever have women priests.
“Sweden, which hosted this important ecumenical encounter, has a
woman as the head of its church. What do you think about that?” the
female journalist began.
“Is it realistic to envision women priests also in the Catholic
Church in the coming decades? And if not, why? Are Catholic priests
afraid of competition?” she concluded.
The pope, as he often does when responding to delicate questions
regarding the role and place of women in the Catholic Church, started
with a bit of his now-characteristic humor (which, let’s admit it, not
everyone finds very funny).
“Reading a bit of the history of the area where we just were, I saw
that there was a queen who was widowed three times, and I said, ‘This
woman’s strong!’ And they told me: ‘Swedish women are very strong, very
capable, and this is why some Swedish men look for a woman of another
nationality.’” Francis joked.
And he added with a self-exonerating giggle, “I don’t know if that’s true!”
Then he answered the question. And his response needs to be looked at
carefully, beginning with the actual words he used in Italian: Sull’ordinazione
di donne nella Chiesa Cattolica, l’ultima parola chiara è stata data da
San Giovanni Paolo II, e questa rimane. Questo rimane.
Here is the most literal way of rendering that: “On the ordination of
women in the Catholic Church, the last clear word was given by St. John
Paul II, and this remains. This remains.”
(The late polish pope, in fact, issued the 1994 apostolic letterOrdinatio Sacerdotalis
and concluded with these lapidary words: “I declare that the Church has
no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that
this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s
But if we translate what Pope Francis said in a less literal way, the
gist of his answer was that John Paul II issued the church’s “latest
clear teaching” on women’s ordination and this “continues” to be its
most recent teaching.
When the Swedish journalist interrupted the pope and asked if that
meant forever, he responded, “If we read carefully the declaration of
St. John Paul II, it goes in this direction [in questa linea]. Yes.”
Francis was just quoting John Paul—namely, that the late pope
intended this to be a definitive teaching that could never be changed.
In essence, the current pope once again sidestepped the issue.
And let’s face it, there are never going to be women priests in the
Catholic Church until there are first women deacons. At least Pope
Francis has begun a conversation about this other, related issue.
That may not be enough for those who believe the refusal to ordain
women to the priesthood is an injustice, in both human and divine terms.
But a pope who has caused such opposition and rebellion among some more
traditional Catholics (mainly in the hierarchy and clergy) merely for
allowing women to be participants in the Holy Thursday feet-washing
ceremony has to choose his battles wisely. Some of them he must wage
quietly or serendipitously.
The fact is that in a little over three years, Francis has
effectively begun prying open the proverbial windows of the church,
windows his two most recent predecessors had slammed shut in an effort
to halt the movement of ongoing reform that continued to gain steam in
the early years after the Second Vatican Council.
Whether Francis can succeed in re-implementing the movement of
ecclesia semper reformanda and actually effect major reforms in the
church’s life and structures (as he envisions in his 2013 document Evangelii Gaudium) will depend on how long his pontificate lasts.
If you are hoping he succeeds, then pray for his ongoing good health.
And also pray that Benedict XVI, the former pope, lives for many more years to come.
Because Francis has told close aides that while he, too, would
consider stepping down at some point, he believes it would not be a good
idea to have two retired popes living at the same time.
At least three major quakes dating from last August have caused the
devastation of buildings and the loss of hundreds of lives in central
The most powerful—but, thankfully, not the most deadly—came early
last Sunday morning. And those of us living in Rome even felt strong
tremors for twenty or thirty seconds.
The town of Norcia, the legendary birthplace of St. Benedict in the
hills of Umbria, bore the brunt of this most recent quake. All its
churches, including the basilica named for the famed father of
monasticism, were destroyed or at least damaged beyond recognition.
The tremors even caused cracks in the structure of the Basilica of
St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome, where the church was closed
briefly for further inspection.
Seismologists say the ground is likely to continue moving in the weeks and months ahead. Some fear the worst is yet to come.
And there is talk in the Vatican that Pope Francis is also preparing
an earthquake of sorts, an ecclesiastical earthquake that will again
shake up personnel and office structures. They say his reconfiguration last week
of the group of cardinal and bishops who serve as members of the
Congregation for Divine Worship was just a slight tremor compared to
what’s likely to come.
The changes the pope is planning could amount to a tectonic shift at
the Vatican (and maybe throughout the universal Church) or maybe they
will only constitute a few shifts here and there.
But we’re probably not likely to see them until after he creates new
cardinals at the November 19 consistory or holds the next meeting of his
exclusive council of nine cardinal advisors (C9) from December 12 to
Then again, it’s not possible to predict the exact time an earthquake will hit.