Posts Tagged ‘Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus’


Sunday, December 11th, 2011

John Cardinal Foley, 1935-2011

Word came to  me late on Saturday on the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” of the death of John Cardinal Foley, a man whom I admired as a churchman, professional, and media-saavy representative in Rome. If any reader has ever heard of him, it is likely in connection with his annual voice-0ver of Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with the Holy Father celebrating. There was much more to this grand man, however, than that annual ninety minutes of international exposure on NBC and other media outlets worldwide who carried the Mass. Born and raised in Philadelphia and ever proud of that fact, Cardinal Foley was tapped early on in his priesthood by the late John Cardinal Krol, Philadelphia’s archbishop at the time, for further studies in journalism. Following the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Krol realized that if the Church was indeed to engage the modern world, it would likely have to do that in and through the media. Father Foley was sent to Columbia where he received a doctorate degree in journalism. Returning to his diocese, he became editor of the archdiocesan newspaper as well as teaching theology courses at St. Charles Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania.

When Cardinal Krol followed the first post conciliar president of the episcopal conference of the United States, John Cardinal Dearden of Detroit (both Krol and Dearden were priests of the Cleveland diocese before being raised to the episcopacy), Krol listened intently to the arguments raised in the Fall meeting of the US bishops by the recently deceased  Archbishop Phillip Hannan, then an auxiliary in Washington, DC, that if the Church was truly to engage the modern world, then it made sense that the annual meetings should be open to the press and to appropriate observers making working behind closed doors a thing of the past in the United States. As one might expect there was considerable opposition to the Hannan proposal but Cardinal Krol turned to his journalism pro, Father John Foley, who persuaded him that there was a far more to be gained from openness in the modern era than secrecy and the body of bishops soon agreed to open their meetings.

With the election of the Polish pope, John Paul II, in 1978, Krol was consulted about a new head for a recently established post-conciliar “council” within the curia entitled, “The Pontifical Council for Social Communications.” Its first leader, a close Polish friend of the new Pope, then Archbishop Andrzej Deskur had suffered a stroke. Krol recommended his young editor to the Holy Father who agreed that by both background and disposition, John Foley could be the man. Think the early eighties and the Holy See and the press. Those who think the relationship is strained now should have been around in those days. Foley arrived with the title of “Archbishop” but was treated very badly by a few well placed people in the curia. Deskur had as his responsibilities as President of the Council for Social Communications the following offices and functions: (the Press Office of the Holy See – quickly removed from any connection with Archbishop Foley’s office; Vatican Television which while still embryonic Foley found to be full of potential, also removed from Archbishop Foley’s purview; Vatican Radio and to a lesser extent, Osservatore Romano, the six times a week newspaper of the Holy See, removed from Archbishop Foley’s responsibilites). It soon left him with little more than a voice crying in the wilderness of the Holy See at times but he never once complained or asked to be reassigned to the United States, he soldiered on making progress where he could and accepting in the words of Francis of Assisi, “those things which I cannot change.”

When the US media would arrive en masse or separately at the Vatican, they would always begin with Archbishop Foley. He and his faithful assistant, Marjorie Weeks, would do what they could to gain access and arrange for location shooting. Sometimes the Archbishop would even have to fight for that but he did, endearing him to all who knew of the challenges which he faced often in attempting to make the message of the Church in the modern world accessible, intelligible and timely. A great friend of the President whom I served for two of my six years as General Secretary, Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore, we often would share a table with the Archbishop and even though I would sometimes attempt to “bait” him into expressing what must have been his professional crosses carried, I never would receive more than a message conveyed not by words, but by his eyebrows. The curia for the most part had an intense dislike of the media and did not understand it unless they could control it. They were always uneasy with Archbishop Foley’s inherent trust that truth served the church better than evasion, and proactive nine times out of ten would trump reactive. How sweet it was when Pope Benedict XVI finally recognized the “gem” long in the service of the Holy See and made the long-serving President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications a Cardinal. Lots of hearts were overjoyed with that news and I, for one, will always be grateful to his Holiness for that courageous message delivered five years ago.

So now Cardinal Foley has no more commentary to give, no more deadlines to meet, no more people to welcome to the threshold of the successor of St. Peter. A great man of the Church known to too few Americans has gone home to rest in eternal life. I have lovely and lasting memories of a man much like my friend, the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus who taught me how to carry the cross of Christ at times in the service of the Church we love. Rest in peace, Your Eminence. I won’t forget you.



Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Blessed John Paul II with the author in Miami in 1987.

I remember so well my first up close and personal meeting with Pope John Paul II. I had met Pope Paul VI as a layperson and had my picture taken with him at a General Audience. His eyes pierced right through me and he looked right at me. While not as facile with English as Pope John Paul II was, we still had a brief moment of eye and speech contact. That night I did not want to wash my hands. The first several meetings with Pope John Paul II were similar occasions but prior to becoming General Secretary and in preparation for the trip of 1987, I had my first meal with him in his apartment and in his dining room. Archbishop Marcinkus had given me a private tour through the papal apartments one summer when it was being repainted and the Holy Father and his entire household were at Castel Gandolfo but the first time for lunch (pranzo in Italian) I can remember thinking only “wow, if the boys on the block could only see me now.”

Pope John Paul II truly opened his life to others. There were guests for his morning Mass, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cardinal O’Connor used to complain that he was always being invited to cena which is dinner and the Pope would usually only have soup, some small salad and a piece of fruit. The complaints made it to the papal kitchen apparently because for guests at night there soon were several courses set out but the Pope’s remained the same light meal.

The dining room was small, very plain but the table was expandable with limitations. Pranzo with the Holy Father would always consist of a small first course like prociutto and melon, a pasta course followed by a meat or chicken course, fruit and then dessert. The Pope ate fast and listened to all conversation but would only speak occasionally. My officers always had some business to do so “junior”  kept quiet most of the time. The meal would last about forty-five minutes and then we would accompany him to his private chapel where we would kneel in private prayer for about ten minutes and then he would take his leave for a rest. There would always be a small gift, usually papal rosaries, shared with us prior to our leaving the apartment.

His private quarters would have surprised almost any visitor. On the second floor where most guests were received the rooms are lit beautifully and there is damask and gold leaf cornices in the ceilings and beautiful but horribly uncomfortable chairs. If one was coming to see him in audience in the morning, you started in one room and were moved from room to room until you were finally in the waiting area nearest his office. His office was a large and spacious room almost totally devoid of furniture. He sat at a desk at one end and there was a chair for the visitor on the side of his good ear. His private bedroom struck me as so spartan that it was almost penitential. But the public rooms while they would never pass muster at the Ritz look richer than they are.  Popes live simply no matter what the world thinks.

I cannot remember an exhaustive discussion with the Holy Father on any of my trips and we went twice a year to meet with him and his officials of the Roman Curia. When we were there and the “iron curtain” was crumbling and Poland was beginning to smell the fresh air of freedom, he wondered out loud how his native homeland would fare since the people  had become so dependent on benefits from the state for which they would now have to work hard to replace. He disliked communism as both an economic and idealistic system but he also disliked unfettered capitalism, no matter what Republican and friendly writers say about his economic theory. I heard him personally too often on the subject. He was intrigued by religious pluralism in the U.S. which we were always at pains to say had served us well but never having tasted it he remained slightly skeptical. I would not call him a great conversationalist but then working in so many languages and doing it so well was in itself a major accomplishment.

The first moment when he called me his "Travel Agent" in the United States

He would occasionally, very occasionally, ask about a neuralgic situation in the Church in the United States or we would bring it up. Those conversations save one, which I will detail in the final of these reflections on Saturday dealing with clergy sexual abuse, remain largely confidential but minutes are in the archives of the episcopal conference in Washington and will be available to historians at the proper time. The administrative work of the Holy See did not interest him a great deal, most likely because there were others to attend to that, but one always had the sense that he was looking beyond the present generation to the Church of the future. It was almost as if when you were with him you could sense “today will take care of itself, it is tomorrow for which we must prepare.” Ever gracious, always hopeful, deeply spiritual, these are my memories of the man. A CEO he probably was not and sometimes perhaps the Church is better because of that but as a spiritual leader he had about himself a charism, a presence, a sense of serenity, which was disarming, assuring and hopeful.

I was never nervous or afraid in his presence. At times he was almost like an uncle one did not see often but who was always interested in how you were doing. He teased me on occasion like in Los Angeles when we arrived ahead of time for an event with oriental religions (Buddhism, Shintoism, Hindu, etc.) and were made to wait in the wings. He asked me, “What is wrong?” and I said “Holy Father we are early” to which he smiled and replied, “It will hurt my reputation to be early.” I laughed. The hardest question he ever asked me was at the University of South Carolina football stadium where he and Billy Graham were waiting in one of the portals to come out on stage and looking at the signage, he turned to me as asked “What is a Gamecock?” I told him it was a mascot and then he asked me what a “Gamecock mascot” was? I told him I would tell him on the plane later that night to New Orleans.

Most of all, however, I remember him in chapel and at prayer. Forty people could surround him at 645 in the morning in his private chapel  prior to Mass and one could almost hear him communicate with God from deep inside his being. They were the groans and sounds of a man in communication with something far deeper than most of us can ever go. It was eerie at times and certainly always mystical. There can be no doubt about his personal holiness.



Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The second visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States was radically different in many ways from the first. President Ronald Reagan had invited the Pope to make a pastoral visit this time and the United Nations was not involved. Since the last visit in 1979 both the Pope and the President were survivors of assassination attempts and so security concerns were ratcheted up significantly. More people and dioceses wanted the Pope even though the cost to the host diocese ran at least three million dollars a day and with nine years in office behind him, every US Church agency wanted a piece of the action. Disney World wanted him desperately for a meeting with the youth of the world at EPCOT (making me one of the few Floridians to ever say “no” to Disney and live to tell of it).

In Rome my dear friend Archbishop Marcinkus had been replaced by a new team of papal advance members led by the Jesuit head of Vatican Radio, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ who is now a cardinal. Assisting him were two of the finest men one would wish to work with, Monsignor Emil Tscherrig from the Secretariat of State and Dr. Alberto Gasbari from Vatican Radio. But John Paul remained the same, just a little older. There were two preparatory meetings with him, which included lunch in his apartment, and a meeting of all the host bishops and the archbishops of the United States with him in Rome in advance of the meeting. Tensions were running somewhat high as agendas were beginning to emerge in the United States. In the visit of 1979, only an address by Sister Theresa Kane, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had raised some concerns but I am certain that the Pope did not hear her. Little known to anyone at the time was that the young pope was near deaf in one ear and the sound in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was not advantageous for him to hear. Almost every picture ever taken with him never shows him looking at the person but turned so he could hear with his good ear.

But it seemed in 1987 everyone wanted an opportunity to speak to him, hoping to elicit a favorable response. So Monsignor Frank McNulty of Newark addressed him on behalf of priests in Miami, Donna Hanson, a lay woman from Spokane, Washington addressed him in San Francisco, Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop Quinn, Archbishop Pilarczyk and Archbishop Weakland addressed him in Los Angeles, the National Catholic Education Association, the Catholic Health Association, and many others spoke their concerns. The Holy Father always had a prepared response as those writing for him had advance looks at the texts.

The Native American Blessing with an Eagle's Feather

Three things gave him special energy in this visit. Although earlier in the day for the first and only time in his entire pontificate his Mass was interrupted and rained out in Miami, he was at his best that day in Columbia, South Carolina on the campus of that state’s University. He could lot believe the tens of thousands of students in a state he knew to be 1% Catholic would gather on the quadrangle and cheer for him and remain while he conducted a ninety minute ecumenical and interreligious exchange with religious leaders from throughout the United States. There were as many students still there when he exited as when he went in and he commented to me, “These young people, they are not Catholic?”  Later he and Billy Graham were to share the stage in the football stadium for a truly ecumenical prayer service, which was frowned upon by some of those travelling with him from Rome.

He also enjoyed a meeting with Native Americans in Phoenix, which included their ritual blessing with an eagle feather, also causing some alacrity with his travelling party that a largely pagan sign would be used with him but something, which clearly he enjoyed.

The Holy Father Meeting Young People at the Superdome

And as in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, in 1987 the meeting with the young people of New Orleans and elsewhere who would fill the vast Superdome brought him special happiness. He was more comfortable and at ease with kids than with bishops by far. Their spontaneous response to his obvious thrill of being with them and their love for him drew them closer to him always.

Popes carry burdens of soul, which few others have to carry. The 1987 visit was right when the AIDS pandemic was spreading and becoming better known in the U.S. Church teaching on condom use and abstinence were not well received in many quarters and to those involved in AIDS ministry and even to those suffering from the disease, the Church in general and the Pope especially seemed insensitive, uncaring, even cruel. When at the old Serra Mission in San Francisco at a prayer service for those with AIDS the pope picked up a child with aids and hugged an adult and embraced him, hearts melted and compassion marked the Gospel. It was quite a moment for me, one that I had helped arrange with the assistance of my Roman colleagues but somewhat looked askance at by others.

John Paul II arrived in Miami with a long and warm meeting between two men nearly killed by an assassin’s bullet and it ended with Vice-President George H. W. Bush offering farewell remarks in Detroit, a city added at the insistence of Archbishop Edmund Szoka which required flying back two thirds of the way across the U.S. and then West again into the Northwest Territory to Fort Simpson in Canada to keep a date he had to cancel several years prior due to fog precluding the landing of his plane at that time. The Holy Father was clearly weakened by his horrible moment with history and not exactly the same as in 1979 but he kept a hectic daily schedule nonetheless and there was always that time for meditation and prayer. Bone tired at midday, on this trip with a scheduled brief rest he would recover well enough to keep a schedule that would kill me at his age, drawing strength from inside himself and at prayer, never wishing to disappoint anyone, and renewed by the adulation of the masses of people who came to pray, listen and reflect with him, especially the young. On both occasions he was impressed with the vitality of the Church in the United States and liked the manner in which we prayed. He mentioned this to the officers and I after his trip in the Fall of 1987 at lunch with him in Rome. For this trip I asked Bishop Larkin if I could have the services of Father John Tapp to assist essentially in the care and feeding of the papal entourage who came with the Pope from Rome and he had his hands full. Also I hired a young lay man from Indiana to work for a year and a half with the Secret Service and the USCC Communications office in arranging for the needs of the local and traveling press (about 300 travelled with us on the full ten day trip). His name was Paul Etienne and he is now the Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

On the TWA 747 in Detroit I climbed the steps once again. This time he was ready for me having been reminded by someone of my quip in Washington in 1979 that he could come back but not too soon. He gave me that half smile and said, “Father, will I be welcome again?” Off he went to Fort Simpson and my life returned to normal.




Monday, April 25th, 2011

Who can forget the chants from the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in and around St. Peter’s square six years ago for the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, “santo subito” roughly translated “make him a saint and quick.” On Sunday next the penultimate step will be taken, once again in St. Peter’s Square, when his long-time and trusted assistant, now his successor, Pope Benedict XVI raises John Paul II to the rank of “blessed” – the final and what will surely be brief stop on the path to sainthood. Each day this week I would like to share with some of my memories of my personal interaction with our late Holy Father.

My first encounter with the newly elected Pope John Paul II came in July of 1979 in the same St. Peter’s Square in Rome when I was introduced to him as the US priest who would organize his just announced first trip to the United States at the invitation of both the United Nations and President Carter. “I will pray for you,” he said and that was it – it said it all. He had seven months prior completed his first pastoral journey outside of Rome to Mexico and the Bahamas as well as his first return trip to his native Poland. Now he had announced a brief visit attached to a stop first in Ireland and then an address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York and I travelled to Rome to measure the magnitude of the man who would soon be coming to our shores.

Ordained only one year at the time and released by my Archbishop to the service of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for a period of four months which was all we had from announcement of the visit to its completion, I met my Vatican counterpart, the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus and the pope on the same day. The latter was easier on me than the former. During the coming months I would sit in meetings and occasionally say a Vatican prompted “no” to the Carter White House (the President and Mrs. Carter wanted a private luncheon for the Pope at the White House), Cardinal Cody and “Lady Jane Byrne” who was the Mayor of Chicago and practically wanted tickets for Holy Communion for a lot of Chicago political bosses in return for preparing streets, providing personal police protection, and readying Grant Park for the Mass. She and her Cardinal were not getting along.

Two trips in three months from the U.S. to the Vatican and the program was complete and agreed to and in a dense fog and rainy day in Boston, Aer Lingus 747 named “Saint Patrick” arrived right on time to begin an intense six day visit.

Almost everybody was on edge, save the Holy Father. He did what he was told when told and was easy to care for, except for that built in radar that found a child to kiss at Madison Square Garden, a wheel chair person to embrace at Lincoln Park in Chicago when leaving Marine One, the Presidential helicopter lent to him by President Carter for the visit, or spending more time playing with the college students at Catholic University who would endlessly chant “John Paul II, we love you” to which when he heard enough he would respond “John Paul II loves you too.” I thought it would never end.

My most profound memories in a kaleidoscope of challenges and events of the Pope himself, however, was his prayerfulness. On the first morning Archbishop Marcinkus and I had just finished saying Mass at 430am in the former Archbishop’s Residence in Boston when down the stairs and wearing his white cassock like a night robe came the Pope for first coffee and then a long hour of prayer in the chapel. Heavy, incessant pouring rain did not bother his meditation while saying Mass on Boston Common and no matter how late we completed the day’s program and got him home for the night for rest, he would dart to the chapel to be left alone with the Lord for final prayer.

When not giving a talk or kissing babies or blessing the physically challenged, out would come the Rosary or his Divine Office. He was young, vigorous then, deeply spiritual which he remained till his death, with more energy than I or anyone else in his travelling retinue. I knew when he walked into the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, minutes after his arrival from Ireland, and the priests stood on the pews shouting for joy and clapping their hands incessantly that I was about to participate in an introduction of an extraordinary person to my country.

DesMoines was added by +Marcinkus and myself when on the phone we concluded that there was more to the US than great cities and urban areas. True a farmer from neighboring Kansas named Joe Hayes had written to me to ask the Pope to come to America’s heartland for even just a few hours but it was the Archbishop who after a long conversation with me went upstairs to the third floor of the papal apartments and made the case for DesMoines and the Mass at Living History Farms. The Holy Father on the way to Chicago that afternoon uncharacteristically thanked +Marcinkus for including the stop.

A week in the presence of such holiness was I thought the experience of a lifetime and there was a frog in my throat when the Pope climbed the massive steps of the TWA 747 which I had chartered and paid for to return to Rome. He was amazing, I thought. What an incredible gift God had provided to His Church in the person of this successor of St. Peter and what a credible, living witness to the Gospel and to the work of evangelization. “Good night and thank you, Holy Father,” were my final parting words (earlier in the day at the Apostolic Nunciature speaking for the Secret Service, the six diocesan coordinators and my staff I had said to him, “It has been a great honor, Holy Father, to have had you among us and all of us hope you will come again, but not too soon as we are tired.”) He smiled broadly and knowingly that his energy level exceeded our own, and I came down the steps to the tarmac saying that would be it for the Pope and me. Wrong. More tomorrow.