Thursday, May 27, 2004

Cardinal Law Gets "Promoted"

Or so some would think, based on this article which proclaims that Cardinal Law has been made "head" of Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome.

Now that article is an object lesson in lazy/bad journalism. Upon reading it, you might be led to think that Cardinal Law is "running" or "in charge of adminsitration" of the basilica.

Well, he's not. He's been given the honorary title of "archpriest". It's an obsolete honorific going back to the Middle Ages, when cathedrals had "chapters" that made major decisions and wielded considerable power. They don't and they haven't anymore.

All the title "archpriest" gives him is the right (if he so chooses) to sit all dressed up in choro at major events.

Based on the term "position", and the comment of Mitchell Garabedian that the "position" is "comfortable", you might think this job is a well-paid sinecure.

In fact, some people came to that conclusion, for in the comments boxes on Amy Welborn's and Mark Shea's blogs, people got upset that Law was being given a "sinecure".

Now, the word "sinecure" comes from the Latin sine cura, meaning "without care". The term denotes a position from which one derives an income, but having no real responsibilities.

In fact, based on some of the comments, it seemed to me that some people imagine that this appointment will allow Law to "hang out" in Rome, where he will be wined and dined and live in a luxurious palazzo, while being waited on by nubian chamberlains in a modern-day recreation of the Borgia Papal Court.

That would make an entertaining scene in a movie, but it's not reality.

Cardinal Law isn't being given "a cushy job at the Vatican". It's not even a job, much less at the Vatican. For being an archpriest of the basilica, Cdl. Law will receive precisely no (that's $0.00) remuneration. It's not a real job. He will receive no stipend, salary, or honorarium of any kind (no archpriest of a Roman basilica does, as an archpriest per se) from the basilica.

But, as cardinal archpriest of the Roman basilica, he will be expected to give substantially to the Basilica, and raise money for its maintenance and support. So this move will likely cost the cardinal.

So whatever this appointment is, it's not a sinecure. It gives him no income, and certianly no power. As a lowly parochial vicar of my parish, I have more power than Cardinal Law does as Archpriest of St. Mary Major.

Furthermore, as an archpriest of the basilica he has no regular duties or responsibilities. He will not be given a place to live there, nor is it customary for the cardinal archpriests of Roman basilicas to reside in Rome, unless they also have full-time Vatican appointments - which Law has not been given. It is unlikely that Law will live in Rome as a result of this appointment, as he'd be on his own to support himself there. And Rome is an expensive place to live (I know, as I've lived there). So wipe away any images of Law lolling about in Rome in some luxurious palazzo enjoying his "sinecure".

He won't be hanging around in the basilica. Given that cardinal archpriests of Roman basilicas aren't provided with lodging, receive no remuneration, and that Law would have no means of support in Rome, that's extremely unlikely. If he were to "hang around" in Rome in the manner some envision, he'd almost certainly make a pest of himself and quietly be told to go find something to do. Because the bishop(s) who really run Santa Maria Maggiore won't stand for some nosy American interloper to be underfoot for very long.

As I've written in those comment boxes, I do think this was a dumb move on Rome's part. If anyone in Rome had bothered to consult with me (not that they should) or any other moderately culture-savvy American, we might have said:
Your Excellencies, please do not give Cardinal Law an honorary appointment of any kind, not even the most trivial. Do not make him even the "Prefect of Papal Stamp-Licking". Because such a move will be misunderstood by many Americans, even Catholics. The headlines will read "Cardinal Who Shuffled Abusers Given Top Vatican Post", or "Law Given Cushy Roman Job" even "Protector of Pedophile Priests Promoted". Regardless of what you may intend, regardless of what subtle statement you are making in Romanitas, you will be perceived as giving Cardinal Law, and everything he did, the Papal Seal of Approval. Cardinal Law is, whether deservedly or not, perhaps only slightly less reviled than the priest-abusers themselves. He has become a symbol, a talisman of evil. American Catholics are still largely incapable of seeing how they are complicit in creating the environment of moral laissez-faire which gave rise to the Shanley's and the Cardinals who protected them, so they have not yet moved from blame to self-examination. Cardinal Law and his episcopal brethren are largely responsible for that as well. This is the reality which you must face and take into account for at least the next decade. Cardinal Law and those like him must pay a price for their failure to exercise their office, and it must be clear to all that they are paying a price. Giving Cardinal Law any kind of appointment sends the opposite message.

I'd like to think that someone would say that to the Holy Father and the Curia. But in spite of the apprearance of this move, I think it's an example of Vatican un-savvyness, and little else. Cardinal Law has been "put on the shelf" in a pretty typically Roman way.