Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best and Worst of 2013

The Best and Worst of 2013

The start of a New Year is a wonderful time to consider the best and worst of the year that was… At first glance 2013 was not such a great year. But there were a few bright spots. First, the best:
POPE FRANCIS: Clearly Pope Francis was one of the outstanding figures of 2013, but not for the reasons we’ve been led to believe by the media. The media meme from the beginning posited that the new Pope was a “revolutionary” who meant to upend long-standing Church traditions. Esquire Magazine just named Pope Francis “Best Dressed Man of the Year” for his sartorial “progressive orthodoxy” (even though he dresses exactly like any pope of the last century and most Dominicans). None of this is why Francis is significant. In reality, the Pope has popularized what it means to be fully Catholic. Francis has made the deposit of Faith accessible and fun again. Coming out of the sex abuse crisis and the horrible press received by the Church, this is a staggering accomplishment in less than a year’s time. The photographic images of a Pope who cares for the disadvantaged and poor explains much of his popular appeal. (Newsflash: most people are not sitting around reading his encyclical or exhortations.) What the public knows of Francis is confined to these images and the snippets of interviews he granted in 2013. There is a line common to fiction writers that is applicable here: what is not explicitly described the reader fills in with their imagination. This is what I believe has happened with Pope Francis. Endearing snapshots and headlines have created a Pope in each individual’s mind that may or may not conform to reality. The new year will reveal much about who Francis truly is and what he means to do in the Catholic Church.

Doctrinally Pope Francis has changed nothing—and I am doubtful that he will. Thus far it is his common man approach and simple enunciation of the Faith that has powerfully resonated in the pop culture. That will continue. But my guess is the positive press coverage may not. Like his predecessors, the moment that Francis begins to clearly defend the unpopular facets of the Faith that he is bound by his office to defend, Palm Sunday will draw to a close and the secular Sanhedrin will rise up to decry this Pope they had such high hopes for. Whatever Francis does it will be fascinating to watch together.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: The most significant and slighted figure of 2013 is without a doubt Pope Benedict. Without his historic resignation of the papal office in February, there would have been no Pope Francis. The gifts of Benedict to the Church will not be transparent for decades, but his theological clarity and supreme humility are already manifest. While Pope Francis is often cited for his humility, contrasted with a media caricature of Benedict, the former Pope’s witness should not be forgotten. The professorial Benedict, put aside his natural shy tendencies to embrace the global office thrust upon him eight years ago. He extended himself beyond his comfort zone for the good of the Gospel, which is what humility is all about, yes? He too embraced the disfigured and prayed with the disabled, though he never received the glowing press coverage of his successor. In fact Benedict was as attentive to the forgotten and pronounced a nearly identical message on the economy, migrants, and life. Not that you would know any of that from the media accounts.

THE BIBLE MINI-SERIES: It was a good year for religion in America. Shattering all expectations, the highest rated miniseries of the year was Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s “The Bible.” The success of the miniseries convinced Hollywood that there might be an audience for religious epics again. In 2014, be on the lookout for Noah, Moses, the Virgin Mary, and assorted apostles at a cinema or plasma screen near you. As I recently told the Burnetts: “the tribe has spoken” and they want more religious stories, not less. Downey and Burnett have now extracted the Jesus’ story from their mini-series to create a two-hour theatrical release called “Son of God” scheduled to hit theatres in late February of 2014. It might be called the second coming of “The Bible”…

DUCK DYNASTY: Part of the allure of one of the most watched reality shows ever, Duck Dynasty, is it’s religious spine. Yes, the Robertson clan are uproariously funny, they are Louisianians (which makes them instantly lovable in my book), and, hey, Jack, Uncle Si is worth the price of admission alone. But it is the unity of this family and their deeply held beliefs that have drawn millions to this A&E series. Their family unity was on display when the patriarch, Phil Robertson recently ran afoul of some gay groups for an outspoken interview he granted to GQ. In reaction to Robertson’s colorful explanation of biblical teaching, A&E suspended him from the series. The family stuck together, threatening to pull the plug on the show if the network did not reinstate Phil. Viewers rallied to the Robertson’s side, protesting the censure, which many considered an attempt to stifle religious expression. As the year ended, A&E reversed itself, as did Cracker Barrel (which had pulled Duck Dynasty products from their shelves for a whole day), and the show goes on. Everyone is “Happy, Happy, Happy.”

THE ROYAL BABY: As dismissive as I usually am of all coverage of the royals, one story proved an exception. The birth of George Alexander Louis offered us with a nice summer diversion and focused the whole world on the wonders of a new life for a married couple. Mother Teresa once said that children are evidence that God has not abandoned us. The royals should take comfort in their latest addition…

BREAKING BAD: The “Breaking Bad” finale was a stunner. The series is to be saluted by showing the true wages of sin and unflinchingly demonstrating that bad actions lead to bad ends-- no matter how much we may be pulling for a flawed protagonist. Great TV and masterful performances.

And now to the worst of 2013:

THE UNREPORTED SLAUGHTER: From Iraq to Sudan to Nigeria to Korea to Egypt to Syria, Christians were destroyed by the tens of thousands this past year. Yet their deaths barely made a dent in the news cycle. John Allen in his book on Christian persecution estimates that more than 150,000 Christians are martyred each year. And the slaughter continues. It is an ongoing tragedy that the Pope has called our attention to; urging all people of good will to petition their governments to end the bloodshed. You can count on the World Over to continue our 17 year tradition of covering religious persecution in the new year.

LOSING GIANTS: The worst part of any year are the great people that we lose in its passing. 2013 took some incredible people of talent, vision, and faith including: Dame Margaret Thatcher, James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton, Annette Funicello, Jonathan Winters, Peter O’Toole, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Antonia Brenner, a Catholic nun who founded a ministry to prisoners in Tijuana. Their leadership and example will be missed…

MILEY CYRUS: She was the “Wrecking Ball” of the American cultural scene in 2013. Watching a young celebrity desperate for notoriety is always a painful pastime. But Miley has taken things to a new low. From her twerking to her ridiculous tongue thrusts, Miley Cyrus is clearly the worst celebrity of the year. She not only shocked sensibilities, but scandalized so many girls who grew up with her Hannah Montana persona. The good news is: she made Taylor Swift look really good. Runner ups for worst celebrity of the year: Lady Gaga feeling up Muppets during her low rated “holiday” special and anyone named Kardashian.

OBAMACARE: From the moment the Affordable Health Care Act was passed into law, the problems were obvious to those of us who had read the monster of bill. But it was the flawed rollout of the website, the private health insurance cancellations, and the registration deadlines that gave the general public their first true taste of just how painful the road to universal health coverage might be. That pain will likely continue into 2014 and profoundly shape the midterm elections.

Please go to my Facebook page at and leave your “Best and Worst of 2013.” Would love to hear what you think I omitted. As we step into 2014, I am so thankful to all of you for your time and attention. I can’t wait to share my first book of fiction, “Kerman Derman and the Relic of Perilous Falls” with you in the new year. I have been working at it for a long while and think you and your family will love it. I have a few other surprises in store as well... New Years blessings to you and yours.


Monday, July 8, 2013

What the Dickens Happened to Us?

A simple, small wooden desk, topped by a sloped, leather writing panel. It is not at all the type of thing upon which one would expect greatness to appear. But appear it did.

dickensdeskI spent a good ten minutes studying the writing desk that served Charles Dickens for so many years. It was on this self-designed desk where he scratched out Great Expectations and The Tale of Two Cities. Within the walls of his Doughty Street house in London, now occupied by the Charles Dickens Museum, he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby by hand. To stand in his office and spend some time near that tiny desk was humbling and a little sad.
Just think of his legacy: A Christmas Carol, The Pickwick Papers, The Old Curiosity Shop... All of it coming from time he spent alone shaping the raw material he gathered from the teeming city around him. Dickens wrote "I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time." Dickens routine was to write undisturbed between breakfast and lunch. He would then spend the afternoon attending to his philanthropic work and later honing dramatic readings of his masterpieces.
But this enduring output was reliant on the life and culture around him. He took time to wander the streets of town picking up story ideas, cadences and the passions of his era. Dickens attended everything from public hangings to grand theatre premieres. Today one wonders what Dickens would find on those same streets were he to wander them today. I just went for a stroll myself (in the DC area admittedly) and found a menagerie of loners: People entirely cut off from one another--tethered to ear buds, trapped in an audio universe of their own construction. When they do look up it's usually to avoid walking into an oncoming vehicle or to check a text on their smart phones. The only dialogue I heard on my 20 minute walk were either people cursing each other out, or people cursing loudly into cell phones. Not exactly the raw matter of the next David Copperfield...

For all our connectivity we are more isolated today than at any time in human history. The recent book Going Solo cites the staggering statistic that in 1950 22% of American adults were single, today that number has risen to 50%. 31 million Americans are soloists. We are (to borrow that old song title) alone together. Without real interaction--the human clash-- drama, music, film, television and literature withers. It leads to a pop culture and arts scene drained of life-- tired and recycled. It falls back on what was and what worked before. Is it any wonder that our cineplexes are featuring yet another Lone Ranger reboot, after another Superman reboot, after another Star Trek reboot, all overwhelmed by one more sequel appropriately called: Despicable Me 2!

The arts are usually an accurate reflection of where we are as a people. And it seems a pretty Bleak House from this vantage point. Culturally speaking you might even call it Hard Times. Perhaps Dickens' captured it best in 1842, following his first tour of America, when he wrote to his friend William Macready: "This is not the republic I came to see; this is not the republic of my imagination." I think we all know how he must have felt.
Original Oliver Twist

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Cautionary Tattoo Tale

Came across a story the other day that underscores the permanence of the decisions we make in our youth. It is a wry piece with a hint of sadness. In a book I co-wrote with Laura Ingraham, Of Thee I Zing, we opined on the tattoo fad writing: "Please don't call it 'body art.' Tattoos are not only disgusting, but they change shape as you age. That cool eagle tattooed on your shoulder at age eighteen, by forty-five looks like a seagull with leprosy."
What follows is the tale of a deflated unicorn and the lasting mark of the choices we make on a whim. For those with friends or kids contemplating marking themselves with a tattoo or in more profound ways, read this and be warned:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mother Angelica's 90th Birthday

April 20th will mark the 90th birthday of dear Mother Angelica. To commemorate the occasion, my publisher, Image and I are giving away 90 copies of my biography of Mother throughout the month. To qualify, go to the top of my homepage (above) and click on the "Happy 90th Birthday Mother Angelica" banner. There you can sign up to enter yourself in our giveaway. Additionally, I am giving away some copies of the audio version of the Mother Angelica biography. To get one of those, send me an e-mail at Tell me how Mother has changed your life or the life of someone you know. Put Mother Angelica in the subject line. Keep your story pithy and I may read a few of the letters on air next week and share the best ones with Mother and the nuns.

Remember the entire Mother Angelica canon of books (the biography, Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons, Mother Angelica's Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures, and the Prayers and Personal Devotions of Mother Angelica) are available online and at bookstores everywhere. Click "Books" to the left to get your own copies. Thanks for visiting and Happy Birthday Mother!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 16, 2013

Pope Francis charmed the daylights out of the press corps this morning and made some real news. Thousands of journalists packed into the Paul VI Hall for the 11 AM meeting. A burst of applause rang out the moment Pope Francis strode onto the stage. We even got a bit of news: The Pope explained how and why he chose the name ‘Francis.’ In an easy style, waving a hand in the air, he recounted the story off text:

“During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don't forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! Afterwards, people were joking with me. “But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need a reform…” And someone else said to me: “No, no: your name should be Clement”. “But why?” “Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!” These were jokes.”

Some Jesuits listening might have missed the humor. The reference to Cardinal Hummes was an interesting one. There are rumors that the Pope may name the 78-year-old retired Hummes Secretary of State. Given his age, I find that story difficult to swallow. But who foresaw a Jesuit, older Pope from Latin America? We’ll see how this plays out. Here’s what we do know: on Saturday the Pope reappointed the entire curia to their former positions. Now the all important replacement process begins.

There was one moment at the end of the audience which caused a number of journalists confusion. The Pope said he was going to give the assembled his blessing. Then he announced this in Spanish: “I told you I was cordially imparting my blessing. Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!”
With that he waved and left the audience hall. On our way out a non-Catholic, American TV anchor asked me, “Did he give the blessing? Was that it?” The Pope did not raise his hand to make the sign of the cross, which caused much confusion. Few of us had ever witnessed a silent papal blessing, but I guess we did today. At a media event it seemed a missed opportunity. Gesture is important not only in the Church but in the media. And while the Pope’s sensitivity was well taken, by not making a gesture of blessing he denied the press a great image to accompany their stories—mainly that the Pope had blessed the media.

The coming days will be important ones for Pope Francis. Monday he will sit down with the President of Argentina with whom he has crossed swords for years. As Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires he opposed President Christina Fernandez’s efforts to legalize gay marriage and distribute free contraceptives. Now in his first diplomatic meeting, he will sit across the table from Fernandez as Pope. For Madame Presidente it will likely be an uncomfortable encounter. It’s one thing to defy an archbishop. Openly defying a pope, in person, requires a political fortitude that is hard to come by.

Tomorrow the Pope will celebrate Mass at the Vatican’s parish church of Santa Anna. It is an interesting choice. My suspicion is that the Pope is again underscoring--as he did with the visit to the image of Mary, Salvation of the Roman People the other day, and while standing on the loggia of St. Peter’s—that he is the bishop of Rome. It is a facet of the papacy that Francis seems to take seriously and one that is perhaps easier for him to embrace during these early days. In some ways it is like an Archbishop changing dioceses. But in time, he will no doubt confront the full scope of his awesome responsibility as Supreme Pastor-- nothing less than the care and direction of the global Catholic Church.

The major networks have all but pulled out of Rome. Following Pope Francis’ election the story was over for them. They will give cursory coverage to the inaugural Mass on Tuesday and that will be that. The most important work in these early days will take place out of public sight—in his meetings with curial officials and trusted advisors.

I am actually looking forward to seeing images of the face to face between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis next Saturday at Castelgondolfo. Ah to be a papal fly on the wall… What must Benedict think of all this? Of the new Pope? Of the new arrangement? This will be one for the history books… stay tuned.

I’ll be going to Mass with Cardinal Timothy Dolan in the morning and I will be praying particularly for my first born who will be 13 on St. Patrick’s day. Happy Birthday Alexander. I’ll be home soon.

Remember that you can sign up for my e-blast (it’s near the bottom of my homepage at Once you sign up, I’ll send you the latest installment of my Rome Diary each day.
To walk into a church and to be confronted with the artistry of Caravaggio still amazes me.  Such beauty and power.  This is the Vocation of St. Matthew, one of the painter's masterpieces.
I discovered the tomb of painter, Fra Angelico in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva this afternoon.  Very moving to be there. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

March 14/15, 2013

It was a perfectly glorious sunny day here in Rome. People were out on the streets and the damp gloom that hung over the Eternal City has broken. The shops were already filled with prayer cards and post cards bearing the image of Pope Francesco. As you can see from the attached shot, the Rome city council has even commissioned its own posters to welcome the new Pope.

The media is captivated by Pope Francis. And why shouldn’t they be? The humble Pope with a heart for the poor is a powerful image. One minute he paying his own bill at the priest’s house where he resided before the conclave, the next he is dashing down the stairs with his bags in hand.

Security officials tell me they have been chuckling to themselves as Pope Francis gently vetoes their procedures for moving a pope from one location to another. Others in the Vatican are not chuckling at all. These tiny gestures-- the subverting of business as usual here; the resistance to Vatican protocol--are sending a striking message to those who work in the curia. This is a pope with his own ideas and change is coming- big change. There is another perspective on this, however. A very wise priest pointed out to me the other night that the Petrine office is more than the man occupying it and there are good and established reasons for the traditions and protocols surrounding a Holy Father. Whether it is the review of texts, security, or various liturgical customs, all these things exist to protect the Pope and to advance his mission. We’ll see how the new Pope reconciles his old ways with this new environment. But in the meantime, Pope Francis’s independent spirit is fun to watch and could become increasingly important in the days ahead.

One question that I have been pondering all day is this: If the justification for Benedict XVI’s retirement was to make way for a younger more vibrant man, why did the cardinals elect a 76-year-old, slow moving man with one lung? (The Pope lost his other lung following an infection as a teenager ). During his address to the cardinals today the Pope seemed to answer this question indirectly.

In a speech that was partially written, partially improvised Pope Francis said: "Dear Brother, take strength!... Half of us are in old age: old age is - I like to say so - the seat of wisdom. Old people have walked into the wisdom of life, such as the aged Simeon, the aged Anna at the Temple. And that wisdom made them recognize Jesus. We give this wisdom to the young people: good wine, which over the years becomes good, we give young people the knowledge of life. I am reminded of what a German poet of old said: 'Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm'' it is the time of peace and prayer. And also to give young people this wisdom. You will now return to your sees to continue your ministry enriched by the experience of these days, so full of faith and of ecclesial communion. Such a unique and incomparable experience, has allowed us to deeply understand the beauty of the Church and that it is a reflection of the splendor of the Risen Christ: one day we'll look at that beautiful face of the Risen Christ. "

The speech today had shades of the impromptu homily offered during his first papal Mass in the Sistine Chapel yesterday. The Gospel reading contained one of my favorite lines in Scripture: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the corner stone…” For Pope Francis there is great biographical resonance in those lines. When he attempted to reform the Jesuits as provincial in Argentina in the 1970’s he encountered severe resistance from within and was exiled to northern Argentina for his efforts. Later he would become a bishop and eventually Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Bergoglio has suffered for advancing reform and still he pressed forward. We are likely to see him move to reform of the curia in similar fashion, heedless of the consequences. Some members of the Jesuit order are reportedly trembling over his ascension for obvious reasons. There were a few powerful lines at the end of the homily that I think capture Francis’ agenda: “I would like that everyone, after these days of grace, should have the courage, truly the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the cross of the Lord; to build up the Church upon the blood of the Lord that was shed upon the cross; and to confess the only glory: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will move forward.”

We had a fantastic World Over last night: Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was perceptive and fascinating as always. During the show he alluded to the fact that Bergoglio’s name bubbled up during the voting in the Sistine Chapel and was not on many lists before the conclave. Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, said Pope Francis’ candidacy just “came about out of the blue” and his vote count kept rising. Many cardinals I have spoken with have referenced Bergoglio’s brief address during the General Congregations as a decisive moment for them. Whatever he said, it left an impression. Here is a link to this week’s World Over in case you missed it:

Mary Matalin, Msgr. Christopher Nalty, Kathryn Lopez, a few other pals and myself had a quick snack last night. Mary made the very sage point that Francis by reviving the faith of Latin America could, like John Paul, reverse the horrible political situation in so many of those countries. Marxism has persisted for decades in various iterations there. Perhaps a spiritual renaissance is the answer to the problems that have long dogged the south. It is a fascinating thought in any event.

It is late here, nearly one AM. I have to get up early to attend the Pope’s audience with journalists, so I should get some sleep. I will carry all of you in my heart as I enter the Paul VI Hall tomorrow and send my impressions along in the next diary entry.

Remember that you can sign up for my e-blast (it’s near the bottom of my homepage at Once you sign up, I’ll send you the latest installment of my Rome Diary each day.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March 13, 2013- Habemus Papam Franciscum

I was in St. Peter’s Square after the white smoke billowed out of the Sistine Chapel this evening.  To be among the people, even in the rain, was quite an experience.  There were more twisted ankles on the cobblestones of Rome tonight than in any moment over the last eight years.  Hordes of Italians came rushing into the great Piazza to be a part of this historic moment.  Who would the new Pope be?

The word going in was that an early vote would mean Pope Scola.  So much for the prognostications and even the preconceptions of some Cardinals entering the conclave.  As I have often said: the pressure cooker of the conclave dispatches and raises up candidates very quickly--and in real time. According to a 2005 diary leaked to the news media, Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio was the runner up in the last conclave.  Tonight he was no runner up.  He was elected Pope.

In truth, from the ground level, I have never heard a crowd so quiet at a papal event.  The Pope’s tender “Buona Sera” threw the people and he was not who they were expecting.  +Dolan, +Scola, +Ouellet were still mentioned before the big reveal.  Most in the crowd near me, didn’t know who Cardinal Bergoglio was, even after the election.  

By now you know many of the details. He is the first Jesuit pope, the first to take the name Francis.  And by all indications he intends to follow the Divine request entrusted to Francis of Assisi: “Rebuild my Church.”  (Cardinal Dolan said tonight that the Pope emphatically told the cardinals that he would take the name Francis after Francis of Assisi, not Francis Xavier the Jesuit evangelist). 

Having spoken to a number of people who know Pope Bergoglio here is what I have discerned: He is a man of the people.  A humble Archbishop who lives in an apartment and takes a bus to work.  The new Pope is known to have a heart for the poor.  He has repeatedly spoken about the inequities between rich and poor and stressed social justice.  Doctrinally he is right in line with Benedict XVI on marriage, abortion, etc. 

You’ll remember when the cardinals went into the conclave they insisted that they were seeking a reformer to clean up the curia--the Vatican bureaucracy.  Well I am told by an individual who worked with Cardinal Bergoglio in the past that he is the man for the job.  “He is an ___-kicker who can fix this place from top to bottom,” the man told me tonight. “He’ll get the right people in place.”  As a Jesuit leader in Argentina, he battled his order to restrain the rise of liberation theology and tried to reform the Jesuits from within.  So the notion of reform and standing up to status quo is nothing new for Bergoglio. 

When I watched the Pope appear on the Loggia tonight, I was most excited for Latins throughout the Americas.  You’ll remember I wrote a couple of days ago: “…The Latin American (cardinals) only have 14 votes in the conclave even though they represent 46% of Catholics worldwide.  They want the Holy See to give Latin America it's due and seek a Pope who really cares.  The Latin swing vote could be decisive.”  I think it probably was.  Expect the red hats to proliferate in South and Central America.  Imagine the reception Pope Francis will receive this summer in Brazil.  Better make your hotel reservations now—there may be none available a few weeks from now. 

Welcome to the era of Francis.  Tomorrow the Pope will visit with Benedict XVI, pray at St. Mary Major, and celebrate a 5PM Mass at the Sistine Chapel with his cardinals.  The inauguration Mass is on Tuesday, St. Joseph’s day.

The new Pope has a tender way about him.  From the Loggia of St. Peter’s he asked the crowd to bless him, led them in prayers for the former Pope, and after taking the mic from the attendant, reached out to the people with very gentle words.  Cardinal Dolan said instead of riding in the limo to the post-election dinner, Pope Francis jumped in a mini-bus with his brother cardinals.  Humility is an arresting thing to see in the powerful.  And to see a Pope purposely diminishing his profile at the very moment of his ascension is an example for all of us.  Like John Paul and Benedict before him, the office and the power of the Holy Spirit will transform Pope Francis into something he is not, even now.   

Standing in the rain watching the people stream out of the square tonight, even as the Pope was speaking, it felt like something major was ending and perhaps something even better was beginning.  Only time will tell.  But that hushed crowd seemed to be withholding its excitement. tempering its applause, waiting to see just what Pope Francis will do and say in the days to come.  Many Catholics probably feel the same way.     

The Conclave Team and I will be back on air Thursday for the World Over in our normal time slot: 8PM eastern on EWTN.  I’ll will have analysis of the new Pope, exclusive interviews and we will answer all your questions.  Remember to send your reactions or questions to  You can also sign up for my e-blast (it’s near the bottom of my homepage at  If you sign up for the e-blast, I’ll send you the latest installment of my Rome Diary each day.  You wouldn't want to miss that, would you?  Buona Sera.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 12, 2013—The Conclave Commences

So it begins. The Cardinals celebrated Mass for the election of a new Pope in the great Basilica as thunder broke overhead. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of Cardinals delivered a homily that stressed unity. It was not the stunning, earth shaker of a sermon delivered by Cardinal Ratzinger eight years ago and had none of the quotable “dictatorship of relativism” lines. But there was also no papal funeral…and Sodano is too old to vote in the conclave.

Cardinal Dolan is hoping a Pope will be selected by Thursday according to a letter to his priests. I hope he is right. If there is white smoke on Wednesday, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan could well be the Pope. If the election rolls on until Thursday and Friday, it is anyone’s guess. Another American Cardinal told me he believes we could see a Pope by Friday. The longer a conclave, the harder it will be to even remotely forecast the result. Some believe this conclave could stretch into next week.

After a hailstorm, it was ferociously cold out on the terrace for the live coverage of the Procession of the Cardinals into the Sistine Chapel this afternoon. What a splendid event the start of the Conclave was. Our conclave team did a magnificent job not only identifying the cardinals, but giving impromptu personal insights. If you didn’t see it, watch the Youtube edition. I’ll post it on my Twitter and Facebook pages. It really was objectively among the finest and most insightful coverage of any network.

The cardinals looked grave and occupied with weighty thoughts as they placed their hands on the open Bible, swearing oaths at the start of the conclave. The time for fun is over. Soon the renaissance pressure cooker that is the conclave will bear down on these men; alliances will shift, sure candidates will fail, and the unexpected could well happen before this is over. Until then, we will all be watching the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel twice a day and doing little else. The fact that millions of eyes, Catholic or not, are fascinated by the drama of this election is testament to the enduring power of the papacy and its continuing importance in today’s world. What other faith commands this kind of attention when selecting a leader?

As expected the smoke that emerged from the Sistine Chapel chimney was deep, dark black. I am told they have fans in the flue which creates not a stream of smoke, but a cloud. The crowd in St. Peter's groaned when they saw the plume. It was exactly what I expected. The first vote is the chance for the cardinals to get a true sense of where the election is and to gauge the strength of candidates. Since the results of each round of voting is announced, the electors can see twice in the morning and twice at night how the body is shifting and which candidates are viable. It is a remarkable process and an election like no other.

Ran into my New Orleans pals Mary Matalin and Msgr. Chris Nalty this afternoon on the street while I was doing a radio interview. The two of them were so elegantly attired, they could have easily stepped out of one of those Nick and Nora movies from the 1940’s. All they needed was Asta the dog. I love everybody, but New Orleanians are a people set apart in my heart. You can take the boy out of New Orleans…

Spotted Kathryn Lopez of National Review in one of the borgos near the hotel. She has been encountering all sorts of difficulties. This morning K-Lo went to the Holy See Press Office to secure a temporary credential. Without so much as a hello, a staffer looked at her and like the Papal Master of Ceremonies at the Conclave yelled, “Get out!” Oh well. Hopefully they whispered it in the polite, delicate way that Monsignor Guido Marini announced “extra omnes!” (everyone out) in the Sistine Chapel today.

The Conclave Team and I will be back on air Thursday for The World Over in our normal time slot: 8PM eastern on EWTN. I’ll have analysis and possibly inside knowledge on the new Pope (if we have one). Remember to send your reactions or questions to You can also sign up for my e-blast (it’s near the bottom of my homepage at If you sign up for the e-blast, I’ll send you the latest installment of my Rome Diary each day. You wouldn't want to miss that, would you? Buona Sera.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rome Diary March 11, 2013

The Italian press is rife with stories of vote counts and blocks of Cardinals already committed to various papal candidates. This is the sort of thing Italian papers do; engage in wild speculation to excite their audience. The fact is nobody outside of the men going in to the Sistine Chapel really know who the major candidates will be or what the first vote count will reveal. That first vote, tomorrow night, is all important.

After their opening Mass and a dramatic procession into the Sistina tomorrow afternoon, the cardinals will one by one swear an oath and take their folded ballots to the altar beneath Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. The result of this vote will furnish them with a snapshot of who the major contenders for the Petrine office are, who has real momentum—and who does not. Afterward, they will retire to St. Martha’s House, the Vatican hotel inside the closed city state, for some serious talk and perhaps a bit of arm twisting. Over meals and private chats some will attempt to persuade their brethren to throw his support to this or that candidate in the hopes of effecting the final ballots the next day. A cardinal told me on Sunday that this process is usually a “gentle sell” that can get harder as time goes on.

The unique dynamics of the conclave are something to bear in mind. These Cardinals will be sequestered from the rest of the world, cut off from staff and technology, forced to confront each other and themselves—all of them fixated on one purpose: the election of a pope. The closed nature of the process, the prayer and the solemn ritual involved to cast each vote will no doubt have an effect on the electors. Emotions will rise, fears and hopes will bubble to the surface, personality differences will intensify. The choreographed coming and going, the prolonged silences, the weight of their decision will create a psychological atmosphere hard for outsiders to comprehend. Father Roger Landry reminded me the other day that John Paul II wrote a book during a conclave (and took the manuscript out of the Sistine Chapel with him). The interesting thing is Blessed John Paul’s revised law on conclaves orders that any notes a cardinal writes in the Sistina must be destroyed. Though a veteran elector tells me he still has his notes from the last conclave in 2005. So I guess manuscript writing is not strictly prohibited. Given the uncertain nature of this particular election, which could stretch on for days, we might see a lot of cardinalatial manuscripts post-conclave.

There are three names that keep turning up like afternoon monsoons here in the Eternal City: +Scola, +Oullet, +O’Malley. The word is that Cardinal Angelo Scola will be the compromise candidate-- a man who could galvanize the Italians, draw a chunk of American votes and perhaps rally his fellow Europeans. They say he might be able to reorient the curia. But Cardinals from everywhere but Italy have their doubts.

Around town, every other Italian, from taxi drivers to baristas utter but one name for Pope: +Dolan. They love his ebullient charm and unbridled joy. There is said to be a conservative Roman block of 9 votes committed to Dolan. If elected he could easily take the name, John the XXIV without missing a beat. Still Cardinal Dolan’s election strikes me as remote after talking with several electors from various countries. And when you’re the Pope of "the Center of the Universe," why bother with the inconveniences of Italy?

The great hope of the Vatican bureaucrats is said to be Cardinal Odilio Scherer of Brazil. Of German heritage, Scherer grew up in Brazil but he is a Roman at heart. He spent seven years at the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. So it is no surprise that the curial types would back his candidacy.
If it is a reformer the Cardinals want--and it seems it is a reformer that they want-- the allure of the North American work ethic and can-do efficiency might prove hard to resist. The Latin contingent are said to be cold to the Dolan boomlet but could easily embrace Cardinal Sean O’Malley or Ouellet, with whom they have great relations and mutual affection. Cardinal Sean spent years in the Hispanic outreach in Washington DC, founded the Latino paper there and speaks fluent Spanish. Ditto for Cardinal Ouellet who has taught in Columbia for nearly a decade before becoming Archbishop of Quebec and later head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. He is someone who would be able to diagnose the problem in the curia, and given his track record at the Congregation, get things done. Remarkably the Latin Americans only have 14 votes in the conclave even though they represent 46% of Catholics worldwide. They want the Holy See to give Latin America it's due and a Pope who really cares. The Latin swing vote could be decisive.

The wild card tomorrow is the rain. Horrible thunderstorms are predicted to assail Rome for days. That’ll make the twice daily smoke stack gazing a real blast. Thank goodness John Paul added the ringing of St. Peter’s bells to confirm a new Pope or we’d gazing at that soggy chimney stack for hours without a clear answer. You folks at home may end up having the best seats to this Conclave after all. Then again you have no access to the pasta and vino. What’s a little rain with eats like this…

Be sure to tune in each afternoon for “Live from Vatican with Raymond Arroyo.” Our special coverage of the Procession of the Cardinals into the Conclave begins at 11AM eastern time and reairs at 10PM eastern on EWTN. We’ll also cover the first smoke signals in the afternoon. Remember to send your reactions or questions to You can also sign up for my e-blast (it’s near the bottom of my homepage at If you sign up for the e-blast, I’ll send you the latest installment of my Rome Diary each day. Ciao

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rome Diary March 10, 2013

There was something mildly amusing, yesterday, about watching hundreds of journalists giddily traipse up to the Sistine Chapel for their big news get of the day: a glimpse of two stoves! To be fair, the Sistine Chapel is always a wonder. But when it is packed with smart phone toting journalists and camera people (many of whom have never been here before) the shine comes off even Michelangelo’s masterpiece pretty fast. For some of the visiting journalists it was a chance a snap a shot for the Twitter feed, for others, a pleasant way to pass to the time. With so little news to report on an otherwise sleepy Saturday, why not?

As I have written before, the real news of the Conclave occurs during the unofficial pre-conclave meetings: during dinners, long walks, and chats between cardinals or groups of cardinals. The near universal distress over the state of the curia (the Vatican government that is to assist the Holy Father fulfill his evangelical mission in the Church) comes up in nearly every conversation I have had here. I will not divulge the contents of my private talks with various electors, but recent statements in the media will give you some sense of what I have been hearing.

“The Curia must be revolutionized,” German Cardinal Walter Kasper told La Repubblica recently. “As well as the word reform, there must be a second: transparency.”

Americans have been no less outspoken on the curia. Before the curtain fell on the US cardinals daily briefing, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston said, “I think that we need to look attentively at the work of the Curia in recent years.” DiNardo’s point was that the curia badly needs reform.

Again and again this theme of curial reform has also been a mainstay conversation piece at the official General Congregation meetings. Expect the cardinals going into Conclave to have “curial reformer” at the top of their papal wish lists.

John Allen speculates in a blog today that the curial block could be more powerful in 2013 than it was in 2005 since they now represent a third of the papal electors (up from less than a quarter). Those 38 cardinals are not likely to vote as a bloc. But if they did, Allen speculates, “a candidate would have to pick up absolutely every other vote in the conclave to get to 77 (the necessary votes needed to win the papacy).” Scary that. But it is not likely to happen. Though I could foresee a sizable Italian contingent collaborating with a curial faction that could block candidates. We shall see…

Our Conclave Crew: Fr. Gerry Murray, Fr. Roger Landry, Robert Royal, Chris Edwards and I ran into Fr. Robert Sirico and Sam Gregg of the Acton Institute last night. It seems everyone is making plans to attend a Mass celebrated by a different cardinal at their titular church in Rome today. One is going to a church on the outskirts or Rome to attend Cardinal George Pell’s Mass, another is going to Cardinal Francis George’s Mass on an island in the Tiber River. I was planning to drop into a local parish. But since everyone seems intent on being at a high profile Mass, I decided to attend Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s. Don’t read too much into this. His titular church is 3 minutes from my hotel and is actually the local parish I had initially thought about dropping into anyway. Providence is kind at times.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet's morning Mass did not happen, but he did celebrate the six thirty Mass in his titular church of Santa Maria in Traspontina.  Before a congregation of largely media types, the Cardinal pronounced his homily in flawless Italian.  His concentration did not waver even as a small child ran back and forth not far from the altar during the consecration.  Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson was in attendance as well as a smatterings of locals.   

Cardinal Dolan apparently wowed the crowds at his Roman titular church across town this morning. He offered his four minute homily in functional Italian—seen by many as a sign of his ability to connect with the Romans. The assembled burst into rapturous applause at his conclusion. As one reporter put it to me, “It’s the closest thing to New Hampshire you’re likely to see in Rome.” This is what journalists abroad with little to cover do: chase after Cardinals as they enter and leave Masses at their titular churches. How newsworthy is all this? Not very. But it keeps everybody busy and provides pictures for the evening news back home.

I ran into my pal George Weigel and his wingman on MSNBC this week, Father Robert Barron on the Borgo Pio. It was a joy to converse with people here who are actually informed. They seemed, like other friends I’ve encountered this week, cautious about predictions and uncertain of the outcome.

We had a bracing Live From The Vatican show last night which ran through the major Papabili candidates—cardinals who are “popeable.” These are the names we are hearing in our conversations with Cardinals around town and it is possible that one of these impressive men could well be the next Pope. If you missed it, you should watch the Youtube edition. I’ll post it on my Facebook and Twitter pages as soon as it becomes available. We will be introducing you to other cardinals in the days ahead.

After a sunny afternoon, an evening drizzle has begun to fall in Rome and there are still no leading papal candidates. According to those who will do the electing, the man who would be pope still eludes them. And the Conclave is only a little more than 24 hours away.

Be sure to tune in each afternoon for “Live from Vatican with Raymond Arroyo” airing at 2PM Eastern and 9PM Eastern on EWTN. And send your reactions or questions to You can also sign up for my e-blast (it’s near the bottom of my homepage at If you sign up for the e-blast, I’ll send the latest installment of my Rome Diary each day. Ciao.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Rome Diary March 8, 2013

 These are damp, strangely quiet days in Rome. They lack the drama and the massive show of humanity that accompanied the 2005 passing of John Paul the Second, which will inevitably impact the result of this Conclave. I can remember those emotional days eight years ago—days when it felt as if the whole Church might collapse into tears. I can remember fighting to get to our broadcast location on many mornings due to the crush of young people packing the streets leading to the Vatican. It seemed the whole world had come to bid a personal farewell to John Paul the Great (as Fr. Neuhaus would call him)—and indeed they had.

On the last day of the public viewing of John Paul’s body I recall being overcome by sadness. He was the only Pope I could remember, the Pope of my childhood and my adulthood. Kneeling next to his body, which seemed so much smaller than I remembered, tears spilled into my hands. It was hardly a unique reaction in the grand basilica that day, but it still felt as if a piece of my heart had been taken from me. Having known the Pope personally over many years only added to my sense of grief—and I was not alone.

The spectacle of that mourning period--the crowds flowing into St. Peter’s at all hours, the singing in the streets, the impromptu doorway confessions up and down the Via Della Conciliazione--pulled everyone into its sway.

Lacking the soulful centrifugal force of a Pope’s passing, the lead up to the Conclave of 2013 pivoted directly to the vetting of candidates and forming of alliances. There was the Cardinals momentary public vespers service at St. Peter’s on March 6th which provided an important spiritual image for the Cardinals. As my co-host on our coverage, Father Gerald Murray opined, “It is a powerful symbol to see powerful men on their knees in prayer.” Indeed. But it was a prayerful moment that did not extend much beyond St. Peter’s. And even though Catholics around the world were joining them in that moment, the Cardinals could not see the faithful as they could in 2005. The presence of those people praying in the streets and the powerful funeral Mass for JPII prepared the Cardinals for that Conclave.

The Curia, the Vatican government in Rome, is clearly the focus of many discussions among the Cardinals these days. It was even confirmed at a press conference today.
The decision to silence the Cardinals (especially the US Cardinals daily presser) was the suggestion of Curial officials running the General Congregation meetings. There was no vote about whether the Cardinals should speak to the media or not. Instead the Holy See spokesman, Fr. Lombardi reported, “it seemed to reflect the will of the College.”

Apart from the daily press conference, the only official releases from the Vatican came in the form of tweets from the Holy See Secretariat of State. They were meant to coincide with the “regular session of the Human Rights Council.” The Secretary of Relations with States tweeted:

Archbishop Mamberti: The Holy See, in its diplomatic activity, is commited (sic) to the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable

The Holy See’s representative to the UN in Geneva then sent out:

Archbishop Tomasi: Respect for the religious freedom of minorities is the cornerstone of dialogue and cooperation.

This is the type of off key approach that has confused the media, bewildered the people, and infuriated the Cardinals. The Curia just doesn’t seem to get it. At a time when people are craving news on the Conclave, the bureaucracy is issuing diplomatic deep thoughts (and misspelled ones at that). These odd releases and gag orders could weigh on the minds of the Cardinals once they enter the Sistine Chapel.

The Cardinals seem to want a reformer; an outsider with insider knowledge who can “streamline” and “clean out” the corruption that ails the Vatican bureaucracy here in Rome. As one man with intimate knowledge of the Curia confided to me today, “When you deal with the Curia it is like putting your hand in a sack with two snakes and an eel-- and you have to pull out the eel.” Get the picture?

Beyond a reformer, Cardinals tell me they’d like to see a charismatic Pope who will boldly proclaim the Gospel in this challenging age. Benedict’s resignation provided yet another requirement for the job: the man must be robust and young enough to meet the expectations of the modern papacy. There is a presumption that the Pope must drag himself about the world as a personal emblem of the Faith a la’ John Paul the Second. But why? For centuries Popes only rarely left the Vatican. And with the advance of media and technology, the Pope need only be a click or an app away from his flock at any moment. In spite of the oft mentioned qualities that the dream candidate must possess, there is a one big problem. The man has yet to present himself.

In all of my conversations here, it is striking that no leading candidate has emerged. In 2005, though many in the media missed it, some of us knew that Cardinal Ratzinger was the man to beat. This time the field seems wide open and confusion reigns. Aside from Cardinals Ouellet, Scola, and O’Malley, few names rise in conversations. But I refuse to engage in needless speculation. Soon we will all know the Cardinals decision. The Congregation of Cardinals voted this afternoon to set the date for the Conclave. It will begin on Tuesday, March 12th. I will be covering the Procession of the Cardinals into the Sistine Chapel on that first afternoon and I hope you will join us.

Be sure to tune in each afternoon for “Live from Vatican with Raymond Arroyo” airing at 2PM Eastern and 9PM Eastern on EWTN.

Be sure to send your reactions or questions to You can also sign up for my e-blast (it’s near the bottom of my homepage at If you sign up for the e-blast, I’ll send you the latest installment of my Rome Diary each day. Ciao

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rome Diary March 7, 2013

A cold, damp wind whips through the borgos surrounding the Vatican these days. And they bring ill tidings. Yesterday, the one source of first-hand information about the General Congregation of Cardinals (the private Pre-Conclave show happening behind the Vatican walls) was abruptly cut off. Each afternoon the American Cardinals had been holding a press avail featuring two members of their group. And though no major news was made here, it gave the press and the Cardinals a chance to engage and interact during a confusing time for all. Can anyone say “new evangelization”? Apparently the candor and the “parallel” press briefings were too much for some to bear, so they had to go.

Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman for the Holy See Press Office obliquely ruminated on the gag order (but then everything in Rome is oblique):

“The College of Cardinals as a whole has decided to maintain a line of an increasing degree of reserve,” he said. When pressed on the reasons for ending the American press conferences he shot back, “Ask them.”

Two factors influenced the move within the Congregation to silence the mouthy Americans.

One: transcript-like, detailed accounts of the Cardinal’s official meetings have been appearing in the Italian papers. Some Cardinals groused about the leaks. I am told by a source that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Dean of the College running the meetings, personally announced the names of the offending “leakers” before the entire body. I find this hard to believe. Cardinals won’t name names when grave offenses have occurred out of fear of offending a brother Cardinal. Now an old Vatican hand like Sodano is going to publically humiliate multiple, Italian Cardinal electors on the eve of a Conclave? I think not. Unless he hoped to demonstrate that he could be the Curial reformer that so many are now seeking… Whatever the case, the leaks provided a nice justification for muzzling the American Cardinals. Even though the Americans had nothing to do with the leaks.

Two: The Americans Cardinals and their “American media” have become a source of envy over the last few days. Since the U.S. Cardinals were the only game in town, aside from the rather staid official Holy See Press Conference, the 5000 plus journalists here swarmed the North American College each afternoon. Cardinals from other countries and certainly the Curia did not look kindly on what Father Lombari called the “parallel” daily press briefings being run out of the NAC. The feeling among the Curia--and I have heard it repeatedly on the desolate streets of this town--is that the Americans were dominating the media coverage and therefore shaping the Conclave. This is only partly true. They were dominating the coverage because no one else was saying anything quotable. Every Cardinal had the freedom to speak to the media. The fact that some are media adverse or unsure of themselves should not be held against those who are demonstrably not. Rather than viewing the daily US media briefing as a negative, the Curia should have embraced it as a positive—a chance for the Church to respond and to get her message out. Instead they have created a media vacuum, one that the Curia imagines it can fill. The scant procedural information provided by Father Lombari and the Press Office (approved by Cardinal Sodano) will not satiate the hordes of media covering this Conclave. Be fully prepared to hear more cries that the press is “distorting” and “manipulating” the Conclave through its coverage. Left with little information, the press will seek out sources and groups that will further irritate Church officials. But it is a situation they could have avoided by making Cardinals—American or otherwise-- more available.

Behind the scenes there is a quiet cold war taking shape among the Cardinals. This division does not seem to be along the old right/left lines, but rather between the Curialists and the outsiders. Reform of the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy of the Church, is a major priority for most of the Cardinal electors I have spoken with since the Pope announced his retirement. It is that curia which is to blame for so many of the gaffes, missteps, and scandals that besieged Pope Benedict during his eight year reign. But the old guard will not go quietly.

The Italians have had a good long time to talk amongst themselves, select their candidates for Pope, and strengthen their coalition. Not so with the Cardinals from other countries, some of whom have only been in Rome for a few days. This is why so many electors (particularly those from America) from +Dolan to +George have urged a longer pre-Conclave period. They want more time to vet their peers, consider the issues facing the Church, and form their own coalitions. Don’t believe the media mem on this one. The later the Conclave, the less influence the Italians will have. The sooner the Conclave, the more influence the Italians will wield. There seems to be a consensus that a later Conclave is what is needed. Time will tell.

Update from today’s press conference: All the Cardinals have arrived and checked into the General Congregation. The last holdout, the Cardinal of Ho Chi Min City is expected to attend this evening’s Congregation meeting. There is still no Conclave date set.

I have decided, despite the limitations of time due to broadcast preps and interviews here to take up the diary started by my friend Father Richard John Neuhaus in 2005. During that Conclave, surrounded by the smoke of his favorite cigars, Father Neuhaus pounded out a daily diary in between our coverage. In his memory, and as a way of granting you access to the hidden side of this process, I have elected to follow his lead. I hope you enjoy this and be sure to send your reactions or questions to You can also sign up for the diary via my website at

In the meantime, remember to catch the World Over and our Live From The Vatican daily show on EWTN throughout the interregnum.